September 18, 2010

Delayed Gratification

I often talk about how different my children are. I watch them travel through their days adopting different approaches to everything that they encounter. One child's weakness is the other child's strength. It's funny though, as Missy grows older the disparity is getting smaller.

Tools is reading the Time Paradox. The other night he stumbled upon Mischel's Marshmellow Test. I studied this in my Child Psychology days but had clean forgotten about it. You can read about it here, but basically it was an experiment studying delayed gratification in the 1970's, carried out on 4 year old children.

We always talk about the Rooster being really good at delayed grafification. We can give him his fruit and place a lolly or Tiny Ted next to his plate with the instruction that he has to eat the fruit first and he will calmly eat his fruit with his eye quietly on the prize. He knows what's in his reach and he has no inclination to eat things out of turn. He can quite easily wait for the goodies, knowing they are within his grasp. He is good with action and consequence. He is easy to discipline and does not like to disappoint. He is a rule follower and prides himself on doing things just as they are suppose to be done. He knows what's fair and gets out of sorts when things don't follow as he expected. There are downfalls to this way of thinking but at the moment his world works for him in this way.

Missy is another story. Given her sweets and fruit, she will eagerly gobble down the treat and we will battle to get the fruit into her. She barters with her brother to help her get the fruit finished so she can leave the table. We have had to change the sequence of events for her as she has very little self restraint. Sure, she is only 2 and a half, but the Rooster could exercise delayed gratification at this age. Our girl has very little self control, she will touch everything even when told not to. She has no fear of consequences and I am constantly having to rethink how I will manage her behaviour. I fear that one day her lack of self restraint will result in some kind of serious injury. Just today she spilt half a bottle of juice because her compulsion to pour the juice was greater than her compliance to the instruction given by me to leave it until Mummy came over. She is so independent and with a strong streak for self discovery.

All of that brings me to today. We decided to do our own little marshmellow test with some M & M's. Given that the two of them had relentlessly hounded me to buy them a packet today, it was the perfect choice. We told them we were playing a game (the Rooster was so excited. He loves games. It's the rule thing again). We would give each child two M & M's on a plate.

They could eat them straight away or, if they could wait till Mummy and Daddy came back from hanging out the washing, they could have two more. Always the negoitiator, the Rooster proposed if they ate one while we were gone would they get one? No, its all or none.

Our money was on the Rooster.

Have a look at what happened when we came back.

This was a surprise, although you have to note that Missy has M & M smeared across her forehead. She obviously was not going to eat them but nobody said anything to her about not playing with them. I am not sure we would have found her with two M & M's had she done the test alone. Maybe watching what her brother was doing was enough to hold her back. Tools gave them the opportunity to double their loot tonight after dinner if they could hold out. 5 hours is a whole lot longer than five minutes and they laughed at him as they gobbled down their 4 tiny sweets.

It will be interesting to see if their ability to delay gratification will develop or wane as they get older and if some of the characteristics noted in the original experiment will apply later in life. I thought it might be worth capturing this moment as a "remember when" for the future.


  1. How interesting. This made me think of toddler twins i used to look ofter, one was more self disciplined like your rooster, the other impulsive like missy, they all do have their own little personalities. (I know exactly which one would have been m&m smeared when i'd come back!)A good game to play with them as it will help their self discipline improve also which is a good thing.

  2. Your kids are just divine! An interesting experiment, my favourite part being the lolly smears across Missy's forehead. I would never be able to implement this at my house. I would have eaten then lollies before the kids ever saw them ;P

  3. Hey, you won the iPhone cover in the Georgie Love giveaway! YAY YOU!

  4. This is so the story at our house!

  5. What an interesting experiment! I think Lucia would be the patient one but there is no way Eva would wait - maybe because she is 3 not 4? I just know she would eat the m&m before it even hit the plate!

  6. oh this post made me happy today! how adorable. your littlest sounds like my littlest too, by the way! definitely a challenge but so much spirit! thanks for sharing!!

  7. Hey Mon, I tried this experiment with my Monkey Boy. He calls it 'the dot game'. I was surprised when he held off eating his 2 m&ms, but he licked all the colour off them while waiting. The second he saw me come back into the room he gobbled them up. The funny thing is he didn't understand that he gets 2 more if he waits, he just thinks the rule is that you wait til mummy comes back before eating them!

  8. How interesting. As I was reading this I was thinking of my nephew and niece who are the same age, same gender as your two and this would describe their natural inclinations perfectly - he's cautious, she's fearless, he colours carefully and beautifully in the lines, she draws wildly and all over herself as well as the paper. Little L adores her brother though and is never happier than when she's trailing along behind him, doing what he's doing so I think under similar test conditions might have looked to him and resisted the sweets. There would almost certainly have been smudges somewhere on her face, I'd have guessed. In fact, I'm going to ask my sister to try this out with them... :) Your two are so cute and I love that you're recording these things for posterity!

  9. thanks for crossing your fingers and toes that we get pregnant soon, much appreciated xo