Imagine you’re a typical four-year old. Someone puts a fluffy white marshmallow down in front of you and says, “I have to run some errands. If you can wait a few minutes until I get back, you can have two marshmallows as a special treat. If you can’t wait, you can only have one, but you can have it right now,” and then leaves. What would you do?
Dr. Walter Mischel at Stanford University tried this with a group of preschoolers. Many of the kids gobbled up the marshmallow almost before the researcher disappeared through the door. However, several were able to wait, distracting themselves by singing songs, covering their eyes and even trying to go to sleep. Their efforts were rewarded with the top prize: two fluffy, white, sweet marshmallows.
The researchers kept track of these children all the way through high school. It turned out the waiters not only got better grades, but they had more friends, less conflict in their lives and were generally happier.
That ability to resist temptation grew into levels of self-control and assertiveness that helped them focus when it really mattered. Learning impulse control helped them to cope better with frustration and suppress short term desires for more important, long term goals.
Were the hold-outs smarter?
Not at all — their self-control was simply strategy. These children had learned ways to delay gratification. Children who learn how to control their impulses are more likely to turn off the television and do their homework, practice to get better at a sport instead of going to McDonald’s, and work out problems effectively with friends instead of blowing up.
Children who have good impulse control are more likely to:
- Think and plan ahead
- Act self-confidently
- Be socially competent
- Get good grades
- Have higher SAT scores
Children who have poor impulse control tend to:
- Be immature
- Act unpredictably
- Be less likely to form friendships
- Get lower grades
Learning impulse control doesn’t just happen. Self-control is a crucial life skill that can be taught. One of the keys is learning how to solve problems effectively. When children know they have the ability to work out problems they are less likely to get frustrated and act impulsively.
Below is a simple five-step method for teaching kids how to solve problems. It is summarized from my book, “I Can Do It!” How to Help Kids Have a Can-Do Attitude. Even children as young as five can follow these steps, and they are the same steps that are used by adults in corporations!
5 Steps to Positive Problem Solving
Step 1: Say the problem without blaming anyone. (Instead of, “She won’t give me the ball.” Say, “There is only one ball and we both want to play with it.”)
Step 2: Brainstorm several possible solutions (at least three).
Step 3: Briefly go over the good and bad points of each solution.
Step 4: Pick a solution that will have a happy ending for all.
Step 5: Try out the solution. If it works, great! If not, have fun going through the process again.
Children who have learned impulse control have better lives on every front. They get better grades, and are more adept at accomplishing their goals. They have better friendships, less conflict in their lives and are generally happier. Impulse control is a crucial life skill any parent can teach their child.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Pam Golden has been an elementary school consultant and has worked with over 15,000 children, 700 teachers and too many parents to count. She believes in using methods that have been proven to work through solid research. For more ideas on how you can help your child to be all that he can be go to http://www.candokid.com
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