What is the key to a successful life? Remember the old marshmallow test? Here’s an excellent review of the background and the practical applications of this, why it is essential to teach more than the basics:
“Educators like to talk about character skills when kids are in kindergarten—we send young kids home with a report card about ‘working well with others’ or ‘not talking out of turn.’ But then, just when these skills start to matter, we stop trying to improve them. We just throw up our hands and complain.”
Mischel’s main worry is that, even if his lesson plan proves to be effective, it might still be overwhelmed by variables the scientists can’t control, such as the home environment. He knows that it’s not enough just to teach kids mental tricks—the real challenge is turning those tricks into habits, and that requires years of diligent practice. “This is where your parents are important,” Mischel says. “Have they established rituals that force you to delay on a daily basis? Do they encourage you to wait? And do they make waiting worthwhile?” According to Mischel, even the most mundane routines of childhood—such as not snacking before dinner, or saving up your allowance, or holding out until Christmas morning—are really sly exercises in cognitive training: we’re teaching ourselves how to think so that we can outsmart our desires. But Mischel isn’t satisfied with such an informal approach. “We should give marshmallows to every kindergartner,” he says. “We should say, ‘You see this marshmallow? You don’t have to eat it. You can wait. Here’s how.’ ”
So now there’s another researcher who has been tracking kids in New Zealand, teaching them social skills of delayed gratification, and that’s what got me thinking again of the whole process. It should be, shouldn’t it, that we who teach our little ones to sit and wait to eat, either at the Shabbos table or in preschools for snacks, until everyone has been seated and say the appropriate brachah together, that we frum Jews should have lots and lots of self-control.
Oh, we don’t?
So what’s wrong with the picture and what do we do about it?