Dubai: More than 50 years ago, a professor named Walter Mischel, who was then at US-based Stanford University, conducted a simple test that revealed so much about human behaviour. ‘The Marshmallow Test’, which has now been replicated by many researchers, explored self-control in children.
The premise was simple: You can eat one marshmallow now. If you can wait, you get to eat two marshmallows later. This idea of delayed gratification is now being adopted by many Gulf News readers when it comes to buying the things their children ask for. They hope to ensure their children don’t take things for granted.
Prashant Bhatia, an Indian business development manager based in Dubai, is one of them. When it comes to his two-year-old daughter, despite working full time and getting to spend very little time with her during the week, Bhatia doesn’t buy any and everything she points at.
He said: “I believe in delayed gratification. If she asks for something, we plan ahead and it becomes a treat that she gets only once. No impulsive shopping. Some children start throwing a tantrum, but I’m not going to take that and my wife is tougher and stricter.”
Their aim is to avoid their daughter from growing up into an “arrogant” individual. They want to be able to control it from a young age and in Bhatia’s opinion, other parents should also avoid giving in to instant gratification.
He said: “Once you start giving them anything they want instantly, they start taking you for granted. You are spoiling your child. You have to make them understand that they can get something if they behave, or at a certain occasion. I read a study about parents following a chart, wherein they give their children a number of gold stars for every good thing. And then they get a gift when they reach a certain number. This helps them learn the value of things.”
Christopher Willard, a clinical psychologist and author of the book ‘Growing Up Mindful’, published an article in The Washington Post, an American daily newspaper, about how children need to be taught to let go off things.
He wrote: “We can set limits on buying toys and reserve gifts only for special occasions. This gives kids something to look forward to (as opposed to expecting it), builds patience, enhances their appreciation and makes them happier.”
Ayesha Al Janahi, an Emirati senior social media specialist based in Dubai, is a mother of an eight-year-old son and she agrees with this approach. In her opinion, giving your children whatever they ask for means spoiling them. She chooses to have a conversation with her son whenever such a situation arises.
She said: “I explain to him that I have to work really hard to earn the money and if we spend it excessively, one day we won’t have any left. Even though he is just eight, he understands.”
Sometimes, children can become stubborn, she believes, but it is important for parents to discipline them early on. If they don’t, longterm effects can be bad.
Ayesha said: “Children could become careless and stop valuing money and things. If we go shopping, I keep telling my son what things we don’t need. And I explain to him that he should only buy things that are important, nothing unnecessary.”
In her case, she has never experienced a tantrum. In fact, when her son sees other children in public spaces throwing one, he asks his mum, “Why are they doing this?”
He is very careful with his toys and also extremely posessive, to the extent where no one else is allowed to touch them. But, he also understands the concept of donations and when something becomes old, he gives it to his mother for the “poor children who cannot buy toys”.
Ayesha said: “Parents need to give their children perspective. They should feel other children’s pain and know that they are lucky. All their wishes cannot be granted.”
Malek Naumann, a Pakistani IT manager based in Dubai, has adopted a unique approach with his two children, both below the age of five years. Over the weekend, he takes them to a toy store and allows them to choose whatever toy they want. But, there is no need to buy them.
He said: “There are some stores that allow children to play with the toys before buying them. After playing with them and getting the real feel, they usually get bored and tell us that they don’t want them anymore. In the end, they might just buy one toy, which they really like.”
In this manner, he doesn’t have to force his decisions on his children, but at the same time let’s them make a sensible choice. But, what happens if they pick something at a supermarket?
He said: “That’s where the problem comes. They pick a toy or a chocolate and if we say no, they can throw a tantrum. So, this is when we try to reason with them and after a conversation, they leave the item.”
Naumann believes that there is no point in yelling at your children in such a situation, because it will only make matters worse.
If they have something at home that they don’t need anymore, they are happy to part with it and give it to charity.
He said: “The decisions that we make as adults reflect on our children. For example, if I buy them a drawing mat, it allows their creativity to flow. But, if I buy a toy car, they break it and it doesn’t help them learn.”
Kristina Spasova, a Bulgarian sales manager based in Abu Dhabi, has three-year-old twins and she keeps gift-buying only for special occassions, like birthdays or Christmas.
She said: “They have less than 20 toys collectively, and all were gifts from others. They don’t get the things they ask for.”
She is of the opinion that having too many toys affects children negatively. “They don’t appreciate what they have, they don’t feel the need to share and they don’t look after them. Hence, I always place the toys in rotation.”
Her advise to parents? Don’t give in to the pressure from others and their children, because “owning more toys is not a competition”.
While ‘The Marshmallow Test’ may be over half a century old, it seems that parents are applying an adaptation of it in their daily lives even today. What do you do when your child demands something new? Share your experiences at email@example.com.