Sure it's important for kids to learn how to their letters and numbers, and learning how to use scissors may come in handy a few times in a child's life. But it turns out that the most important lesson that parents and teachers can teach young children is the fine art of self-control. A new study finds that this one valuable life lesson could affect a child's future health, finances and happiness.

As an adult, self-control is the skill that keeps you from eating the whole cake in one sitting, or from charging something that you know you can't really afford. According to a study published recently in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, children who had the greatest self-control in preschool were most likely to have fewer health and financial problems when they reached their 30s.

For the study, a team of researchers evaluated the behavior of a group of people born in New Zealand in 1972 and 1973, tracking them from birth to age 32. The researchers looked at the level of self-control that each person seemed to possess at various ages. They defined self-control as having skills like conscientiousness, self-discipline and perseverance, and most importantly, the ability to consider the consequences of actions in making decisions.

What did they find? According to the research, the children who struggled with self-control as preschoolers were three times as likely to have difficulties as young adults. They were more likely to be single parents, more prone to have a criminal record, and more likely to be poor or have financial problems. 

So how can we, as parents, teach our kids this vital skill? According to the experts, it's all about responsibility and delayed gratification. Teaching kids from a young age to clean up their toys and hang up their own coat goes a long way towards teaching them how to be responsible for themselves. And delayed gratification — saving dessert until after dinner or video games until after homework — teaches kids that good things come to those who take care of business first. And, if this study is accurate, that can make the difference between kids who are successful in life and those who are not. So the next time your toddler balks about picking up her blocks, you can assure her that her future health and financial success depends upon it.

[via NPR]

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