Stanford researchers see trouble ahead for kindergarten students with low self-regulation unless parents and teachers help

October 23, 2014

In the famous Stanford marshmallow experiment, young children were offered one small marshmallow now, or two marshmallows in 15 minutes if they could resist eating the first one. Children with low self-regulation ate the first marshmallow. In follow-up studies these youngsters tended to grow up to be teenagers with lower SAT scores, higher body mass indexes and higher rates of drug abuse.

Now, a new Stanford study shows that trouble can start as early as kindergarten for children with low self-regulation. The good news is that parents and teachers can help prevent these problems.

Doctoral candidate Ximena Portilla and Assistant Professor Jelena Obradović of the Graduate School of Education, with colleagues at the University of California, San Francisco, studied kindergarten students and classroom environments and then followed those students into first grade. Their study was published in the journal Child Development.

"Challenges with self-regulation place young children at risk for negative relationships with teachers and lower academic functioning," Portilla said.