September 18, 2010
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.