Thursday, December 28, 2017

Self-regulation (Part 1): Self-control

Earlier this week we celebrated Christmas with the family, including our 11 grand children, on Christmas eve. Of-course it wasn't the games or the food that would be the main focus of the evening but the anticipated sharing and opening of presents. Numerous times through out the evening I was met with a chorus of, "When can we open our presents?" Finally the time came for gratification with the tearing of wrappings and smiling faces.

Most children, when they are very young desire immediate gratification, particularly when it comes to presents or sweets. Self-gratification is what they instinctively desire but most children learn to develop self-regulation skills, often that means delaying immediate self-gratification for a higher but distant goal. Self-regulation is often characterised by the ability to ignore distracting impulses, being able to persist at a task, and not forgetting what they have to do to complete the task. 

More than 40 years ago Walter Mischel explored self-regulation with his now famous experiment referred to as the Stanford Marshmallow Experiment (see video example) which laid the groundwork for much of the research into self-control and self-regulation. In this experiment Mischel and his colleagues presented preschoolers with a simple choice. The experimenter sat each child in turn in front of a plate with a treat, such as a marshmallow. The child was then told that he or she had to wait a few minutes while the adult left the room but their choice was that they could eat the one marshmallow or could have an extra one if they could delay eating until the adult returned to the room. This led to further research that found children who could delay self-gratification at this stage were often more successful in later life.

This morning I listened to a an ABC 'Life Matters' podcast called "Self controlling your future" . Amanda Smith interviewed Dr Sandhya Ramrakha, research manager for the Dunedin Multidisciplinary Health and Development Study, also maintained that young children with more self-control had better life outcomes. This is based on a New Zealand longitudinal study of 1000 subjects. Dr Ramrakha proposed that self-control is a skill that can be learned.  Parents and teachers can teach children many important skills that promote self-control. This can be achieved by encouraging them to: take turns, delaying gratification in order to obtain a set goal, improving attention span by gradually increasing the amount of time to concentrate and focus attention on a particular task. Naturally the best window of opportunity is in the preschool years and continuing throughout the childhood years.

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