Parental Investing 101: Learning from Marshmallows and Fish

However, good parenting is about making smart investments with the equity of time.  Investing is not always easy.  It takes the ability to forgo immediate pleasure in order to reap long-term benefits, a quality called delaying gratification.

In 1972, psychologists performed a study that they called The Marshmallow Experiment.  In the experiment, they offered each child one marshmallow with the promise that if he was able to resist eating that marshmallow, he would be given another.  The children were videotaped to see the strategies that they would employ as they tried to resist eating the first marshmallow.

The most interesting part of the experiment is the longitudinal follow-up.  In three follow-ups with the original participants, one in 1988, one in 1990, and one in 2011, participants who were able to delay gratification were reported to be more competent, have higher SAT scores, and more successful  Further, brain imaging showed differences between the participants who were able to delay gratification and those who were not.  Pretty interesting.

Investment requires delay of gratification.  When we invest money, we need to choose to put it away rather than spend it on an immediate desire.  We make this choice because we know that in the long run, it will benefit us; however, investment requires us to choose to forgo immediate satisfaction.

The same goes for parenting, but the investment is time and energy.  When children are young, we can choose to invest our time to teach them: teach them skills to be independent, teach them social skills, teach them that we will follow through with limits and consequences.   In the moment, teaching these things can be difficult.  It is easier to let things slide.  It is easier to do things ourselves.  It is much easier to sit back and enjoy ourselves in the moment.

However, the time it takes to teach these skills is a small investment given the long term payoff.

As the old adage says:

If you give a man a fish, you feed him for a day.  If you teach him to fish, you feed him for a lifetime.

For parents, it is:

If you pack your child a lunch, you feed her for a day.  If you teach her to pack her lunch, you give her life skills (and get to enjoy a cup of coffee in the morning).

1 Comment

  1. Nice article, It was practical.

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