A while back, I heard about a study done in the 70's that measured a child's ability to delay gratification. In the study, a child was seated at a table alone. A scientist would then place a plate holding one marshmallow in front of the child with the instruction that the child could eat the marshmallow right away, or if he/she would wait five minutes, then he/she would get a second marshmallow. The scientist would then leave the room.
The children were videotaped. Some of them ate the marshmallow immediately. Some of them looked at it for awhile and then ate it before the wait time elapsed. The rest of the children waited the whole five minutes and received a second marshmallow upon the scientist's return to the room.
The children were tracked down years later at different milestone ages and even well into adulthood. The children who ate the marshmallow immediately were more likely to have dropped out of school, gone to prison or become drug addicted. The children who were able to wait for the second marshmallow, or those who were capable of delaying gratification at a young age, were more likely to have finished school, gone on to college and hold down steady jobs. I don't remember anything about the middle group, but I'm guessing they fell, you know, somewhere in the middle.
I often think about this study when observing my own kids. Sydney has almost always been capable of waiting for something she wants; at eight years old, she gets a kick out of seeing how much money she can save up. Even little Evan, at age three, is well on his way to being able to delay gratification, too. Sometimes I think the boy has the patience of Job.
However, I've always worried about Liam. At five years old, he is our impatient child, the one who given a marshmallow wouldn't hesitate to pop it in his mouth immediately. I think about the kids in the study who went on to drop out of school or try drugs and I fear for this kid.
Just this past week, though, he's really surprised me. A few days ago, I fixed him a snack of raisins, a cereal bar and his absolute favorite snack, fruit chews (like Gummy Bears but made with juice). He ate the raisins, then the cereal bar and saved the fruit chews for last.
Then for dinner a couple of nights ago, I gave him a plateful of bacon, eggs and biscuits. He ate the eggs, then the biscuits and then the bacon (his favorite among the three).
And just today after Sunday School, Sydney gave him a little bag with two cookies in it. I told him he could eat them if he wanted. He ate one and then gave the other to me "for later."
Wow. I don't know if it's because he's maturing or because he sees his siblings being able to wait for things they want, but he truly has improved.
I still haven't worked up the nerve to repeat the marshmallow experiment with him (the boy loves those little puffs of sugar), but I think I might try it soon.
There just may be hope for him yet.