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As a financial writer, I enjoy writing about deal-makers. Now, I get into deals with my four-and-a-half years old son, Vajra. Our deals are for the number of candies, episodes of Mister Maker or Spiderman cartoons, and about the days on which he can eat fries or chips. Whenever he demands candy or chips at a super-store, I tell him “Let’s finish the candy at home. We will buy these the next time.” If he wants to watch television at an odd hour, there is a deal again – “You can watch one episode now or wait for some time and watch two episodes after finishing dinner.”
This deal-making doesn’t always work. But on most occasions, it’s heartening to see my son wait to get home, have his meal, and then rush towards the fridge to have a chocolate. He waits to reach home before opening the return gifts from a birthday party. I would like to believe that my deal-making is indeed helping him delay his temptations even though it’s for a bigger reward at times.
I hope he will gradually understand that to get something he wants, he will have to show patience or self-control.
In doing this, I hope he will gradually understand that to get something he wants, he will have to show patience or self-control. This is the lesson I should have given him when he held his first toy and threw it away, the first time I took him to a super-store, or the first time his grandparents got him a crayon-set which he already had. I am not sure how it was for you, but as a first-time-mom who took a sabbatical from work, it was all about giving quality time, latest toys, good food, and endless mall visits for my little bundle of joy.
Within two years, I realized that the “law of diminishing returns”, as they say in economics, was at work. There were too many options. Newer toys meant old ones were misused or littered all over the house. If the toys broke, Vajra knew that Dadaji (Grandfather) would get a new one soon enough!
Instead of requesting, he would often end up demanding things. “How come he has become so insensitive?” “Why doesn’t he respect his toys?” I would often ask myself. I realized my parenting blunders. The impulse shopping stopped. We started following the rule of one toy a month, in spirit! And then came the deal-making.
Now we don’t dread going to supermarkets with our son. At times, I get to hear “ok mom, we will get this tomorrow” at the departmental store or toy shop. The candies gifted by friends are usually eaten after meals. So, some amount of “delaying of gratification”, as psychologist Walter Mischel said, is at work.
Walter Mischel, an American psychologist known for his famous “Marshmallow Test”, is my inspiration for the deal-making.
In the 1970s, he got 4-6 year olds in a room and placed a plate of cookies (marshmallows) in front of them. Kids had a choice: eat one cookie or a marshmallow immediately or wait for 15 minutes till he came back to the room, and you would get two. Some kids ate one immediately. Some kids distracted themselves from the table by imagining it to be a picture,and some looked around in the room.
Mischel tracked these kids after 10 years. During their teens, the kids who had waited for him to return to the room, got better scores in competitive exams. In their thirties, he found that they earned better and could deal with frustrations and setbacks in a mature way.
Well, my aim with deal-making isn’t to see Vajra score a high SAT (Standardised Test) score or crack an Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) exam in his teens; but it is to help him gain self-control, a trait that will help him respect the money he gets or earns, respect the privileges and choices that come his way.
It’s a subtle message that may get lost when he will see other kids giving in to their temptation of opening a return gift or gulping down the juice can before paying for it. To ensure that he can sustain this self-control, I will order Walter Mischel’s latest book, the best-selling “The Marshmallow Test” in which he tells us how self-control can be practiced and mastered.
Are your kids ready for the marshmallow test?
The Great Gruhini would be happy to know and share your experience of the marshmallow test!
Pic credit: Image of child throwing a tantrum via Shutterstock.