Back in the early 1990’s the long term findings of the 1960’s Walter Mischel “marshmallow study” were released.
When I read the findings of the Mischel study it became evident to me that something simple as having children wait for a minute or two for snack might help them develop better self-control and all the benefits of having more self control.
Having the ability to wait, though, requires some positive qualities in the child’s environment.
Trusting the situation
If a child doesn’t feel safe to wait, self-regulation suffers. For example, perhaps a child experienced that by waiting for snack someone else is going to get snack ahead of them, and there won’t be any for them. Next time they are asked to wait, are they likely to do so?
Is someone going to take their snack away from them? Do they feel safe to wait for two minutes with food on their plate? Again, what is their prior experience?
When the child experiences trust and safety in their environment they learn to incrementally wait longer each time they are asked. Perhaps the first time a child can only wait for ten seconds before eating their snack. Over a period of months and years as trust and safety are established, children are highly likely to be able to wait for longer and longer periods.
Children’s brains are developing and the areas that are involved in self-regulations, mainly the neo-cortex and the prefrontal cortex are immature.
When stress hormones are set off because of not feeling safe, instinct takes over the child’s brain and behavior.
It is at this times that as adults we need to step up and be our children’s neo-cortex prefrontal cortex. We must help them calm themselves in order to reestablish a brain that can learn and make choices. Sometimes the situation will call for problem solving techniques. Perhaps it requires a quiet place to recollect calm.
To help our children establish strong self-regulation skills we need to create environments of safety and trust and be present to help calm the inevitable stressful situation