Fruit Snack Challenge: Instilling Self-Control in Children

20 August, 2020
You only need a bowl with something appetizing and a mobile to observe the ability of self-control in children. Have you heard of the fruit snack challenge?

The fruit snack challenge has flooded social networks in recent weeks. Many people on the Internet have also called it the challenge of patience since, in reality, it deals with a fundamental developmental capacity: self-control in children.

The challenge is to fill a bowl with attractive food for children, generally sweets such as fruit snacks. The parent/guardian places it within the child’s sight and reach. However, the child is told that they can’t eat them until the adult returns. Meanwhile, a camera records the child alone while the adult leaves for a few minutes.

Children’s reactions are pretty varied, some predictable and others surprising. There are children who show great self-control and even resort to distracting techniques such as singing or instructing themselves not to touch the snacks. Others bite only a small piece and leave it quickly, feeling regretful. On the other hand, other children are overcome by temptation and can’t resist taking them before the indicated time.

Background: The marshmallow test

This challenge has a precedent in the 70s known as the marshmallow test. A researcher called Mischel, along with his collaborators, conducted this experiment at Stanford University. Their goal was to get answers about delayed gratification and self-control in children.

The marshmallow test is similar to the fruit snack challenge. However, this experiment proposed something different. If the child was able to resist the temptation, they’d get twice as many sweets as they were initially provided. This way, they discovered that the children who passed the experiment used distraction techniques and self-instruction.

However, the biggest discoveries came later. Interestingly, they evaluated those same children at adolescent ages, which led them to other significant findings.

Those who passed the experiment had greater social skills and higher self-esteem. In contrast, those who failed to make it to the end of the experiment had higher levels of impulsivity, aggressiveness, and a greater likelihood of developing behavioral disorders.

A bowl full of fruit snacks.

Self-control in children

Self-control in children is the opposite of infantile impulsivity. Basically, it supposes an ability to regulate one’s own emotions and impulses. Self-control is actually quite a complex skill, especially in children. It requires training and is especially difficult to handle up to four or five years of age.

This ability influences all important areas of a child. For this reason, it’s related to the development of difficulties in later stages. For example, in the social sphere, self-control in children is especially important when it comes to respecting the turn to speak, controlling tantrums, sharing, and respecting the properties of each child, among other things. In the same way, low self-control leads to poor emotional regulation and the child can be overwhelmed in everyday situations.

Some childhood disorders can seriously compromise self-control. For example, attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder or ADHD. One of the main characteristics of this disorder is impulsiveness. This, of course, compromises the daily life of the individual and even their physical health by having frequent accidents and falls.

How to assess self-control in children

The fruit snack challenge has entertained social media users by witnessing the internal struggle that some children have to show self-control. However, some signs of daily life allow us to assess this ability. Let’s see what they are.

  • At school, children can be patient. They wait to hear their name, raise their hands to be able to speak, respect their turn to speak, and strive to not interrupt class very frequently.
  • In the social sphere, they establish dialogues and games where they’re not always the center of attention. Interestingly enough, these never seem like monologues. Also, they show openness to the possibility of sharing.
  • In the family environment, children who gradually develop their self-control show more self-calming skills during tantrums as they grow. Additionally, they learn to accept the frustrations they may come across.
Self-control in children is necessary in order for them to have good psychological health later on. In this photo, a happy child.

Self-control is an ideal, a model people should follow no matter their age. Not all children develop this ability in the same way and at the same time. As a consequence, not everyone acquires these skills. It’s important to keep in mind that learning is a thorough process.

As you can see, the fruit snack challenge can be fun. It helps to learn how children handle situations that require self-control. Through it, the adult is able to observe the way the child develops this skill.

A good way to instill self-control in children is precisely by having good self-control yourself. Remember that, when it comes to parenting, you serve as a mirror. Your child will always aim to act the way you do. Be a good example!