Emma Waverman writes about the chaos of modern family life in the kitchen and out of it. She has a weekly food column on CBC Radio One, Here & Now. She is the co-author of the family cookbook Whining and Dining: Mealtime Survival for Picky Eaters and Families Who Love Them and is hoping to one day finish her certification as a parenting coach. She lives with her three kids, ranging from tween to university student, and husband in Toronto. Emma has written for a variety of national lifestyle magazines and newspapers. When she's is not making typos, telling you what she thinks, and thinking about dinner, you can find her on Twitter at @emmawaverman and Instagram. You can contact Emma at embracingchaos@hotmail.ca.

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Don't Eat the Marshmallows!

There was an infamous study in the 60s about marshmallows, four-year olds and self-control. Researchers placed a marshmallow in front of a 4-year old child and told them that they were going to leave the room and if the child did not eat the marshmallow then they would get a second one, and if they did eat it, then there would only be that one and only. Kids used all kinds of methods to avoid eating the sticky goodness, and the ones who tried to ignore the temptation were the ones who were the most successful at waiting. But the ones whotempted fate by licking or smelling the marshmallow rarely made it through five minutes, let alone fifteen. The study caught up with these kids years later and guess what?

There was a link between those who delayed gratification and greater success in academics, business and relationships. The majority of the two-thirds of the pre-schoolers who indulged had lower S.A.T. scores, had struggled with addiction issues and even had higher BMI (body mass indexes).

One of the scientists working on a current extension of the study says the study was about more than just self-control, it was a roadmap to how kids think. “This task forces kids to find a way to make the situation work for them. They want the second marshmallow, but how can they get it? We can’t control the world, but we can control how we think about it.”

Now I have three children, one of whom is incredibly impatient. He is the one who will open up the loot bag and shove all the candy in his mouth before we even get his seat belt on. We aren't quite sure if it is a temperment issue, or just self-preservation from his two siblings.  I described the situation to him and asked him what he would do. And he said "I would wait." And then one second later he said "no, I would eat it. I  mean, Mummy, marshmallows are sooo good. I don’t think I could wait…” To which my response is “Auugghh! You are going to be a failure!”

So now I am worried. How will he withstand peer pressure around drugs? How will he delay self-gratification in this messed-up world where temptation is all around us? Can 15 minutes of a child’s life really be a signpost to their future? Maybe those kids were just hungry. Maybe I’m being like the kid with the marshmallow too, I am not being patient and seeing how this guy turns out. My husband just thinks I’m nuts.

I’m not sure that reading about these studies really improves my parenting. But this New Yorker article kickstarted all the recent buzz about the study and has some interesting ideas in it about teaching self control.

You know this study must have been big because there is even a TED talk about it. Joachim de Posada says that telling a kid to wait to eat a marshmallow is like telling an adult that their coffee will be coming in two hours.

Sticky Temptation

Oh, The Temptation from Steve V on Vimeo.

I don't know about you but I am tempted to set-up a little home version of this study with my own kids and their friends. But I think I will have a coffee and a Rice Krispie square first.


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