Fourth Graders Practice Delayed Gratification

Fourth Graders Practice Delayed Gratification
Meena Tahiliani

Last week our fourth graders did some thinking about how to handle impulses and delay gratification. Ms. Whited writes, "Our fourth graders recently watched a video about the Stanford Marshmallow Experiment that Dr. Mischel conducted in the 1960s and 70s. A pre-schooler was asked to resist the temptation of eating one marshmallow in order to receive two marshmallows as a reward for waiting fifteen minutes. Only thirty percent were able to wait for the double payoff. The interesting part of this study was in the subsequent follow up studies of these same people. Dr. Mischel found that close to fifty years later the subjects with the ability to delay gratification had significantly greater sense of self-worth, as well as better social, cognitive and emotional coping skills. Not only that, but brain scans showed more active prefrontal cortexes in those with greater self-control.

Luckily the brain has plasticity, and self-control can be improved. As Dr. Mischel writes, 'We don't have to be victims of our biology, genes, or circumstances. People can learn self-control strategies and become active agents indetermining how their lives play out.' (2014)  That is precisely what we wanted our students to realize. During our class discussion, we used the metaphor of thinking of the brain as a muscle. Your emotions want to do one thing, but your brain knows what is expected. It's a huge struggle to have integrity when you want to do something else. Your brain has to work hard against your emotions. If your emotions win the struggle, your brain doesn't get as big of a workout.

The fourth graders learned of five strategies to help them build self-control:

  • Plan ahead to avoid pitfalls or challenging situations
  • Make small goals
  • Know the rules or expectations
  • Think about the consequences to oneself or others
  • Practice

They came up with their own small goals and are practicing every day."


Thanks to Ms. Whited and our fourth graders for this important work.

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