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I’m sure you have all heard about the “Stanford marshmallow experiment” where a child is given two choices, 1. They could have the marshmallow that is sitting in front of them right now, or 2. If they waited 15 minutes they would be able to have two marshmallows for waiting the extra time. This experiment showed that most students that waited were more successful based on SAT scores, educational attainment, BMI, etc. later in life over the ones that didn’t wait. It was a very interesting experiment, but it was somewhat flawed, in my opinion.

So, while this may have shown some promise as to identifying that delaying gratification with some children can be helpful. Delaying gratification isn’t the only thing that will help your child with learning discipline.

At our karate school we see a lot of children who want to answer a question that we have asked and because they know the answer they do one of two things and sometimes both, they either wave their hand like crazy and are making all kinds of noises to try and get my attention, or they just blurt out the answer.

I sometimes think, don’t they realize they are sitting right in front of me and I can see and hear them with ease? But a child that is lacking discipline doesn’t understand this.

In both cases the child is lacking the discipline to wait and be called on, like the marshmallow experiment.

So, what do I do in these cases?

Option 1: Explain to the child that I can see and hear them and that I must choose someone else to answer the question that showed more discipline.

Option 2: I will pick the student right next to them, that is showing discipline, for answering the question and then tell that student, thank you for being so disciplined and waiting for me to call on you.

Option 3: Put my index finger to my lips and say shhhhh to get them to be quiet and stop the frantic activity to get my attention.

Option 4: Raise my own hand very still and show them how to behave for being chosen to answer the question.

You must be able to try different things and you never know what is going to work so you need to use various methods. These things let the child know that their lack of discipline isn’t getting them what they want and helps them to understand how to show more discipline next time.

So back to the marshmallow experiment. What would have happened had they tried a few different things? Maybe covering the marshmallow with a bowl? The old saying, out of sight out of mind, may have given some children an opportunity to earn the additional treat. How about asking them to think of something happy or thinking of something besides the marshmallow? Maybe give them something to do while they wait. How much more successful could this experiment have been then?

All children are different and will learn at different speeds with different techniques and it can change from one moment to the next. What works this time may not work next time. You need to try many different things that can help them to learn many ways to gain more discipline in everything they do.

While I understand the marshmallow experiment, it wasn’t an exact science for showing which students were going to be successful and which ones wouldn’t. Had they tried more methods for getting the kids to show the discipline necessary to earn the second treat they may have had a more accurate picture overall.

I hope this is helpful information for all of our families working with their children to learn and grow.

Yours truly for awesome and amazing kids,

Sensei Randy Kopke

Sylvania Family Karate



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