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Education: Empty Promises & Hollow Threat

John had been pressing me to perform a psychological experiment on our son. The reason why I hesitated at first was not that it was a nasty experiment; instead, I didn’t think I was ready to accept the result.

It was the famous Marshmallow Experiment, conducted by Dr. Walter Mischel in 1972. He presented each kid with a marshmallow placed on a table. The kids were told if they waited, they would receive a second marshmallow as a reward. Of course, some kids ate it right away. However, the ones who waited were said to have higher impulse control and more likely to succeed in the future.

John pushed me one more time saying, “I have zero fear of the result. Whatever it might be, it’ll give me information to help Jaden grow and develop.”

I finally buried my anxiety and did an updated version of the experiment. “You can watch this excavator video for five minutes now or ten minutes if you wait until tomorrow,” I told my son, expecting him to weigh the two offers for a while. He immediately replied with “Okay!” and crept into bed.

This experiment is not simply about patience but also trust. If a kid has been hurt by empty promises or hollow threats on a regular basis, I don’t think they would choose to wait.

When I was 8 to 9 years old, I learned how to cook simple meals during summer vacation. I phoned my parents at work, asking if they were coming home for dinner so I could prepare a surprise. They told me they would, but I waited in frustration until my mother finally called me back. “Your father and I are going to visit a friend,” she said.

I may not remember many promises that my parents have kept, but this one I will never forget.

That’s why I try hard to keep my promises for Jaden, even small ones. One day, before I went to work, Jaden asked me if I could get him a duck. I agreed and hastily left. Where could I get a duck? Luckily enough, there was a sufficient supply of rubber ducks in the office because of the HERE! Pool Party. I was given a duck to take home for my son.

If I was unable to keep my promises, I will give Jaden a very straightforward answer, which is usually ‘no means no.’ Then, I will just let him cry and comfort him. My mother thought I was too soft on him.

There was a time when Jaden was obsessed with the water dispenser, turning it on and letting the water flow. My mom caught him once and threatened to spank him. I knew my mother would never spank him, as I had little corporal punishment in my childhood. To solve this issue, I offered a different course of disciplinary punishment.

“How about letting him clean the mess so that he knows the consequence?”

Now here I am, waiting patiently for my son to pass the experiment and earn that second marshmallow.