How to Teach Your Child to Delay Gratification

Before 2008, delaying gratification seemed to be a lost art. Why delay gratification when you can have it all now – after all, you only go around once, right?

Since the great recession, (some) people seem to have re-gained perspective on the benefits of waiting. Folks have re-learned that it can be better to save up for an item instead of just putting it on the card or taking out a loan for it.

What is delayed gratification?

Simply put, it means you wait. It means you have the self-confidence to believe that the object of your desire will come and the self-control to avoid rushing right out to get it.

I suspect that many of the people who did re-gain the perspective that it is good to delay gratification, were forced into this waiting perspective. No credit, no money = no buy. Some of them may now be seeing some benefit in the effects of delayed gratification.

Benefits of delayed gratification.

For us, the benefits of delaying gratification (i.e. NOT spending every time we felt like it), were the ability to put our sons through college debt free and build wealth to the point where we are very comfortable in retirement.

The kids in the now famous Stanford University Marshmallow experiment in the late sixties/early seventies showed that the kids who were able to delay did better in most all life situations, including things such as scores on the SAT.

The Art of Manliness listed the following as benefits:

  • You may find that you don’t really need or want the object of your supposed desires.
  • You will be motivated to take better care of the object if you had to wait for it.
  • You don’t feel guilty about spending the money you didn’t have.
  • To enjoy life, you need to fee both satisfaction AND hunger – delaying gratification helps you feel the hunger.
  • Delaying your gratification builds both your self-confidence—you are in control of your life, not your emotions or circumstances–and your self-discipline.
  • Our brains experience more pleasure when we are working towards our goals, than they do when we actually achieve them.

In Young Bucks: How to Raise a Future Millionaire the author, Troy Dunn, suggested that the greatest gift you can give your child is the “Gift of Want”. If they want something badly enough, they will figure out how to get it and learn valuable life values and skills along the way. They will never have the gift of want, if you give them everything they want as soon as (or sometimes even before) they want it!

Granted that learning to delay gratification can have some nice benefits, how do you teach your child to learn to do so? You may not even realize that they are NOT delaying.

How to teach delayed gratification.

My spouse and I took our grand kids to Lego land this past week. Since I knew it would be a long day, I packed snacks and drinks for afterward. As we were driving home (through rush hour traffic no less), I handed out one of the snacks. The grand kids polished that off and immediately began clamoring for the next one. Hubby realized that they couldn’t possibly still be that hungry and suggested that I make them wait for the next one. I wasn’t even aware that I was reinforcing a bad concept – immediate gratification. I was caught up in the moment (keeping the grand kids happy so hubby could drive undistracted). The grand kids got to wait for that next snack!

Later that week, we set out on the 5 hour drive to return them to the parents. Again, I packed snacks and drinks (never go on a trip with your spouse or young kids without them!). They knew I had packed potato chips and marshmallows. After a couple of hours on the road, I handed out the potato chips and our youngest (5 years old), immediately began lobbying for the marshmallows (“I’m soooooo hungry”). To distract her from the thought of sweet gooey marshmallows, I told her she had to wait until we went over the river with the BIG bridge and had her start looking for it. That kept her waiting for over 45 minutes, quite happily. She learned to wait, and she learned that waiting produced the desired result (the marshmallows).

Really, teaching your kids how to delay gratification is teaching them that they have the power to wait and helping them learn how.

On the University of California site, The Greater Good, the author recommends using distraction and ‘self-talk’ to avoid giving in to temptation. Self-talk is just showing kids how to psyc themselves out by giving themselves pep talks, or talking to themselves about other things.

Carrie, on Pocket Your Dollars wrote that she uses TV time to teach her kids to wait. She lets them watch 2 hours a day, but they can ‘bank’ one of those hours so they can watch 90 minutes of TV later.

Other ways to help your child learn to delay gratification:

  • Let the baby play by herself for a while – don’t constantly hold or entertain her.
  • Don’t always be instantly responsive to the kid’s interruptions and requests – make them wait for you while you are speaking to others on the phone, don’t buy whatever they want at the grocery store, let them entertain themselves for increasingly longer periods of time as the grow older.
  • Make them eat veges to get dessert. Set up a situation where they wait and then get an even greater reward than what would have happened if they hadn’t waited.
  • Show them how to see the desire for immediate gratification as a challenge – one they can master. Praise the values they are using to hold off satisfying their desire “You are so grown up, you don’t have to have everything now, now, now”; “You are so smart to wait and see if that toy will go on sale”; You are so strong to be able to wait to get that when all your friends already have it” and etc.
  • Let them experience the fact that waiting – while it may be uncomfortable – is manageable and desirable.
  • Teach them to save for that special toy and show them how to track progress towards it.

Did your parents teach you to delay gratification? How are you teaching your children?

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