The ability to control the desire for immediate gratification is a hallmark of impulse control. This ability to inhibit an immediate desire “May be the single most important indicator of a person’s future adaptation in terms of number of friends, school performance and future employment.” Hence, teaching children self control during their pre-school period can have far-reaching positive results. Over fifty years ago, Walter Mischel,conducted “The Marshmallow Test,” which illustrates the ability of young children to control their behavior. “Mischel and his graduate students gave children the choice between one reward (like a marshmallow, pretzel, or mint) they could eat immediately, and a larger reward (two marshmallows) for which they would have to wait alone, for up to 20 minutes.” The follow-up, thirty years later, indicated that the individuals who exhibited self control during the initial test had higher SAT scores and lower body mass index.
Adults should model self control. For instance, teachers can reflect without reacting when challenged. Parents can demonstrate that they can delay purchasing a desired item. In teaching children impulse control, help them to label their feelings. When they can identify their feelings they are less likely to act on them. Practice can also be fun! Games such as Simon Says, Red Light Green Light, and Follow the Leader will give a child opportunities to practice impulse control. And children enjoy playing them. Provide opportunities to practice delayed gratification. For example, gradually increase the duration of the delay interval before they receive their reward.
Consistency and discipline are important components in teaching impulse control. Be mindful of actions at any age. Supporting the inhibition of negative impulses can result in a fulfilling and successful life.