The marshmallow experiment was a study done by Walter Mischel in the 1960s to see if impulse control at a young age correlated with a child’s outcome later on. Children who did the best during this experiment were the ones that were able to use their imagination and self-regulation toolkit to detach themselves from the temptation. There has been quite a few variations of the study since then. A particular interesting one looked at how the relationship of a child with his mother affects impulsivity. The results indicate that it does.
How Relationships Affect Impulse Control
Researchers observed that children with little autonomy were less able to resist temptation and wait for a future reward. When mothers in this study were labeled as controlling and overbearing, their children were not only unable to securely explore their world, but they also showed poor impulse control.
Imagination and creativity seemed to offer a protective effect. Kids who could ignore their overbearing caregiver by tuning her out or escaping into their imagination were also able to resist a tempting treat in favor of a future reward.
Although, there seems to be a correlation between controlling parents and impulsive children, it is most definitely not okay to assume that every child with poor impulse control also has controlling parents. However, children do need to develop secure attachment, meaning knowing they can trust and feel trusted by their caregiver, in order develop problem-solving skills and impulse control. The toddler years are essential in building that autonomy and therefore developing self-control. Scientists point out that a child who doesn’t have this foundation in his toddler years is not necessarily doomed to a life of recklessness. It is only a possible red flag for future challenges.
What a healthy parental relationship brings to the table is safety, love, trust and acceptance. These are ideal factors for developing healthy emotional processing, feeding curiosity and problem-solving skills, as well as developing impulse control in young children.
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