It's another edition of ProSquad, where we've gathered experts to help solve your trickiest parent dilemmas! Our Developmental Pro checks in today with strategies for parents to encourage self-control in children.

Could your child pass the marshmallow test? Believe it or not, delaying gratification through self-control can be a predictor for future success.

In a now famous research study, children ranging in age from four to six years were told they could eat one marshmallow immediately, or wait several minutes and get two. The researcher left the room and gave each child the freedom to make their choice. Follow-up research revealed that the children who waited in order to get two marshmallows had more success in school and in relationships later in life. When observed through a two-way mirror, the "patient" children used strategies such as looking away and singing to themselves to resist the temptation.

Self-control is a critical life skill. Fortunately, it is also a learned skill, and parents can teach self-control in a variety of ways. Here are a few strategies.

  • Set a good example for your child by waiting patiently.
  • Teach your child to recognize emotions by naming them. — "It seems that you are feeling anxious and frustrated." Recognizing, acknowledging, and managing emotions play an important role in building self-control.
  • Stick to a regular bedtime routine. — Once your child is put to bed, explain that they have to stay in bed until they fall asleep.
  • Always have your child wait his turn to speak. — Teach the importance of being respectful and waiting.
  • Assign age appropriate household jobs. — And encourage your little one to carry them out without assistance.
  • Play imaginative games that include opportunities for taking turns and waiting patiently with your child. — Role-play can be a fun way to teach self-control.


Developmental Pro, Anne Zachry

Anne Zachry, Ph.D. is a pediatric occupational therapist, child development specialist and mother of three. She's had articles published on, Pregnancy & Newborn Magazine online, has written a parenting course for Daily OM, and writes for a variety of regional parenting magazines.

Dr. Zachry's research has been published in national peer-reviewed journals, including The Southern Medical Journal, The American Journal of Occupational Therapy, and The Occupational Therapy Journal of Research, and she's had articles published in her profession's trade magazines, Advance and OT Practice. She is a member of the American Occupational Therapy Association, and she has also given numerous presentations to parents and teachers on a variety of topics related to infant and childhood development.

Her websites are Dr. Anne Zachry and Pediatric Occupational Therapy Tips.