In last week’s letter we discussed the Marshmallow Experiment and the connection between self-control and success in all areas of life. This brings us to an interesting question: Do some children naturally have more self-control, and thus were destined for success? Or can you learn to develop this important trait?
Here’s more from a related research project:
What Determines Your Ability to Delay Gratification?
Researchers at the University of Rochester decided to replicate the marshmallow experiment, but with an important twist. Before offering the child the marshmallow, the researchers split the children into two groups.The first group was exposed to a series of unreliable experiences. For example, the researcher gave the child a small box of crayons and promised to bring a bigger one, but never did. Then the researcher gave the child a small sticker and promised to bring a better selection of stickers, but never did.
Meanwhile, the second group had very reliable experiences. They were promised better crayons and got them. They were told about the better stickers and then they received them.
You can imagine the impact these experiences had on the marshmallow test. The children in the unreliable group had no reason to trust that the researchers would bring a second marshmallow and thus they didn’t wait very long to eat the first one.Meanwhile, the children in the second group were training their brains to see delayed gratification as a positive. Every time the researcher made a promise and then delivered on it, the child’s brain registered two things: 1) waiting for gratification is worth it and 2) I have the capability to wait. As a result, the second group waited an average of four times longer than the first group.In other words, the child’s ability to delay gratification and display self-control was not a predetermined trait, but rather was impacted by the experiences and environment that surrounded them.
This is where we parents can have such a crucial impact on our children’s success. If we make promises, or threats without thinking through what the outcomes will be, and then frequently don’t follow through because of one (unanticipated) impediment or the other, we didn’t merely lose an opportunity to teach a lesson – we have acted destructively, by weakening our child’s sense that good things are worth waiting for and that there are negative consequences for acting improperly. Parenting without proper and timely follow-through is not just a lost opportunity – it’s proactively doing possible harm.
Many parents lack the skills of managing behavior and knowing just what to say to a misbehaving child in a certain circumstance. That is excusable. You’ll just need to get used to an overly lively household! Your children will grow to adulthood as productive, healthy members of society. However, consistently failing to follow through on your word will cause a `disconnect’ between your children and you, your values and ultimately Hashem, R’L. The negative trait of losing trust and developing a cynical explanatory style that our children acquire as a result, may unfortunately follow them to adulthood.
Equally important, by never developing the ability to delay gratification, never developing the self-confidence to exercise self-control, not having a trusting relationship with the most important adults in their life, your child may not find success, inner peace or happiness.
The good news is, with a minimum of focus and effort, we can achieve a trusting relationship – by paying heed to what we say, and making sure to follow through on our word in a fashion that at least minimally fulfills our earlier statement. This is one of the main secrets of successful parents – mean what you say, and say what you mean – and it’s within all parents’ reach to achieve that success.
With best wishes for a Shabbos of truth, faithfulness and connection,
Rabbi Kalman Baumann