The Marshmallow Test

How Nannies and Au Pairs Can Teach Children Focus and Self Control, an Essential Life Skill

If you missed the June, 2010 issue of Be the Best Nanny Newsletter you missed our review of the new book by Ellen Galinsky, Mind in the Making. But, you can still view a video clip below from Mind in the Making by Ellen Galinsky below.

In Ellen Galinsky’s new book, Mind in the Making, the acclaimed author explains that children need to learn focus and self-control in order to achieve their goals, especially in a world that is filled with distractions and information overload. It involves paying attention, remembering the rules, thinking flexibility, and exercising self-control.

In the Marshmallow Test, a classic study by Walter Mischel of Columbia University, when children were give a choice between one marshmallow now or two marshmallows later, some could wait for the larger treat and some couldn’t. If the child is able to delay gratification they are increasing learning ways of managing frustration and ways of managing distress. These skills lead to less drug use, higher educational level attainment, are much less likely to have low self-esteem and to engage in bullying behavior with other people.

Games to Play to Teach Children Focus and Self-Control:

Simon Says Do the Opposite: Watch the video below to see how to play.

Guessing Games: For example, “I am thinking of an animal with a name that sounds like rat.”

I Spy: Tell the child what you spy (“I spy something in this room that is green”) and the child has to guess what it is.

Puzzles: Find the picture by putting the pieces back together.

Red Light/ Green Light: One person is the stoplight. The stoplight turns around. When the stoplight says, “Green light!” the children run towards the stoplight, who can turn around and say, “Red light!” at any time. Any child spotted moving after the stoplight says, “Red light!” must go back to the starting line.

Musical Chairs: Make a circle of chairs and have each child line up behind a chair. Then put on some music and remove one chair. When you stop the
music each child must sit down on a chair. The child without a chair is out. Keep playing until the last player in a chair wins the game.

Bell Game: Give each player a bell. The must walk, but the goal is that nobody should make a sound with the bell.

Here is a video about the Marshmallow Test and how to play “Simon Says, Do the Opposite.”

You can purchase your own copy by clicking links below:

Mind in the Making: The Seven Essential Life Skills Every Child Needs


  1. I remember learning about this experiment in college early childhood education and it really is fun to see on video.

  2. Can't wait to play these games with the kids. The 5 yr old has the hardest time focusing. Thanks for good resource. Fun video.

  3. Love this! It was very interesting to see how each child waited and passed the time. And that some sat clamly and others could not sit still for more than a few seconds. Some could resist the urge to touch the marshmellow and some could not. (I laughed at the one boy who had to touch the marshmellow and then lick his finger!)I've cared for many children from birth to 5 years old and at 12 months old I begin to start teaching them patience and self-control. It's a little tough at first, but really pays off as they get older.Andrea-Nanny in NJ

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