So your kid ate the marshmallow…


At some point in the 1960s, Stanford researchers decided to learn more about delayed gratification.  They conducted what’s know as the Marshmallow Experiment (Test) and discovered some interesting stuff:

“The purpose of the original study was to understand when the control of delayed gratification, the ability to wait to obtain something that one wants, develops in children. The children were led into a room, empty of distractions, where a treat of their choice was placed on a table, by a chair. The children could eat the treat, the researchers said, but if they waited for fifteen minutes without giving in to the temptation, they would be rewarded with a second treat. In follow-up studies, the researchers found that children who were able to wait longer for the preferred rewards tended to have better life outcomes, as measured by SAT scores, educational attainment, body mass index and others.”  

Fast forward to Christmas 2016, and both of my kids indicate they want coupons. The year before, I struggled regarding what to get my pre-teen son who only lives for video games and has everything he could ever want or need. I decided to put together a coupon book that would allow him things like 1/2 hour of extra game time, a free pass on cleaning his room or eating dinner, etc.

Surprisingly, the coupon book was a big hit. He savored the coupons throughout the year, using them strategically and with great care.

Due to the popularity of the coupons last year, my younger daughter decided to ask Santa for a coupon book of her own this past Christmas. My son asked for more coupons as well.

Santa delivered.

The notable point here is that my daughter immediately started using the coupons and couldn’t be bothered to listen to why she might want to save them for later use. She just had to spend the coupons.

So, I’ve got a kid that would eat the marshmallow. Now what?

Research uncovered has given me some level of assurance that the behavior can be modified. One article I read discussed a correlation with establishing trust.  Others have tips for teaching your kids delayed gratification in a number of ways. For example:

  1. Don’t punish bad behavior. Instead, reward good behavior.
  2. Teach goal setting behavior.  Of course, make them SMART!
  3. Use positive distraction skills.
  4. Teach self directed speech.
  5. Help them learn how to develop a plan and think critically.
  6. Teach and support the importance of savings.
  7. Practice mindfulness.
  8. Set an example. Kids imitate behavior.

So, this year I’m on a mission. Each kid has 10 coupons to spend. Let’s see if I can modify behavior enough to get my daughter to delay gratification, or at least critically evaluate the possibility.


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