This week I watched the SBS show Predict My Future: The Science Of Us - The Early Years (watch on SBS on demand). This documentary series is based on the findings of the Dunedin Longitudinal Study. This study has followed 1000 children since 1972. One of the things that stood out for me in the show was that the data showed that the personal trait of self-control in childhood is linked to successful (healthier and wealthier) adults (see article)
Self-control is the ability to override thoughts, impulses and emotions. So self-control is the ability to control your emotions, rather than have your emotions controlling you. They said that children with poor self-control went on in adulthood to have more physical health problems, financial difficulties such as bankruptcies and less stable relationships.
They discussed the marshmallow test as an example of where you can see the level of self-control in a child (see here for an article about this research). This is where children are given one marshmallow and are told they can eat it now or if they wait 15 minutes they will get a second one. The children who can wait have learnt strategies from people around them that enables them to control their urge to instantly eat the marshmallow and then have strategies to take their attention away from the marshmallow for the next 15 minutes (they also must have trust in the person doing the test that there will be a second marshmallow at the end).
This ability of self-control is not set, it can be improved and the earlier you support students to improve it, the better the outcome. So back to my students. The question I’m now asking myself is how can we help/teach students who are almost adults to have better self-control?
Some of the ways I think increased self-control could help these students includes:
- To not put off work – eg reduce procrastination
- To not start smoking (or give up)
- Help them do things they don’t want to do, but will have a long term benefit. Eg. Do homework, start assignments straight away
- To be able to better control their emotions such as anger when dealing with peers and teachers
- To avoid negative impulsive decisions, doing things in the moment
- How to go against negative peer pressure
- Reduce their chance of dropping out of school.
So my next task is to investigate how to teach students to improve their self-control.
Any suggestions or resources welcome.