Image by: Kate Ter Haar

The Marshmallow Test

Age Range
3-9 yrs
Setup Time
No set-up time!
Setup Location

This activity is known as the Stanford Marshmallow experiment, a series of studies conducted in the late 1960s and early 1970s by Psychologist Walter Mischel, then a Professor at Stanford University. In follow-up studies of this test, the researchers found that children who were able to wait longer for the preferred rewards tended to have better life outcomes, as measured by SAT scores, educational attainment etc. He found significant differences between those who had wolfed down the marshmallow — they were now found to be more easily frustrated, indecisive, disorganized — and those who, as tots, had been able to control themselves — they were now more confident, self-reliant and — scored about 200 points higher on the SAT!

When children demonstrate self-control, it's a strong indicator of later educational and economic success. But even for kids who can't resist immediate gratification, self-control is a skill that can be taught. Try this activity to test your child’s ability to defer instant gratification for a bigger reward. Try it again to help your child practice the ability to resist and gain self-control!


  1. Offer your child a choice between one small reward (a marshmallow or a cookie etc.) provided immediately or two small rewards if he or she waited until you returned (after an absence of approximately 15 minutes)

  2. Spend some time highlighting the benefits of 'waiting'. Once encouraged to do so, leave the child alone with one reward promising to return with another

  3. Return after the designated time period and discuss the outcome (whether the child ate the marshmallow or waited for a bigger reward)

  4. Even if your child did not demonstrate self-control the first time, it will be worthwhile to continue informing your child of the benefits of 'waiting' and practice this skill!

Disclaimer: This presents an overview of child development. It is important to keep in mind that the time frames presented are averages and some children may achieve various developmental milestones earlier or later than the average but still be within the normal range of development. This information is presented to help parents understand, at a high level, what to expect from their child. Any questions/concerns you may have about your child’s development should be shared with your doctor.