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The ability to delay gratification has a high correlation with later success in life.
The emotional aspect of effortful control is the ability to inhibit action and shift your attention. Tests on preschool children measuring inhibitory control are closely tied to their ability to regulate their own emotions and their understanding that their thoughts are not always the same as someone else’s thoughts.
How can you help your child develop emotional effortful control? One of the clearest tests of this skill is the famous marshmallow test, where the experimenter tells a child, “Here is a marshmallow. You can eat it right away, but if you wait until I come back, I will give you two marshmallows.” Children who are able wait and get the double benefit are high in effortful control, and later in life tend to reap the benefits of delayed gratification like studying tonight to get a good grade on the test tomorrow or staying in school to get a better education and better career. I believe effortful control is a skill that can be learned, and you can help your child at this age by practicing the test and helping him learn how to shift his attention.
First of all, I recommend you use something healthier than a marshmallow (fruit or even an enjoyable activity.) Begin with a short time, maybe a minute, and explain that your child should (1) stop looking at the prize, and (2) intentionally do something else to take his mind off of the temptation, like playing with something else. When the time is up, reward him with double the prize and praise him for having self-control. Each time you play the “game,” increase the length of time and the intensity of the temptation until he can resist for fifteen minutes.
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