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How to Help Your Child Develop Delayed Gratification

Have you ever seen a pair of shoes and instantly said: “I must have them”? Or have you had a bad day, gone home, opened a chocolate with the noble intention of having one or two pieces — only to finish the entire slab in a matter of minutes? Of course you have. Hell, we all have. We’re human. And humans are hardwired for instant gratification. I guarantee you’ve seen this need for instant gratification in your kids too. They’ll scream and shout and nag and cry. They’ll make your life hell, just because “All the other kids have a [insert current child fad here]! I want it! I want it! I WANT IT!!!” It seems like Kids are the masters of instant gratification. But really, Instant Gratification is their master. And servitude comes at a cost. I’m not just talking the cost of those pricey shoes or the calories from the chocolate. There are deeper consequences here. It’s a massive red flag if you find that your child is not capable of balancing his desires with a realistic or rational sense of timing and patience. You aren’t doing your child any favours by giving into his excessive need for instant gratification. Ignoring or condoning it can have farther reaching consequences later in his life, such as:

  • Developing a lack of impulse control, making him more susceptible to temptation and addiction.

  • Growing up to be selfish, ill-disciplined and without a strong work ethic will likely make him unhealthy, flaky, insubordinate and unfulfilled in his career.

  • A craving for constant stimulation means that he will get distracted more easily, robbing him of time for quiet reflection or deeper, more critical thinking.

  • The default response to not getting what he wants (when he wants it) will either be overpowering anxiety or an explosive rage.

  • A sense of entitlement will lead to a lack of guilt or shame for the fact that he selfishly sees the whole world as only being in existence for his benefit.

  • An inability to cope with the slightest frustration will make him demanding, impatient, disrespectful of authority, contemptuous of his peers, insensitive and easily wounded.

The problem with instant gratification is just that — everything needs to be instant. Unfortunately, the world doesn’t work like that. Things take time, and money needs to be saved in order get what one wants. Instead of being ruled by a need for instant gratification, children have to learn discipline, form a work ethic and develop…

The Cure — Delayed Gratification

Delayed Gratification is the flip side of the coin from instant gratification. It is ‘saving the best for last’ for both short and long-term goals. For those prepared to delay gratification, they get way more out of the eventual reward. Not only do they enjoy the anticipation of the reward while they wait or work for it but, when all the working and waiting they did pays off, the feeling of fulfillments and gratification is much higher. Plus, being able to delay instant gratification has a direct impact on our success in all aspects of life, as evidenced in the Stanford Marshmallow test. Delayed gratification is a skill that can be developed. Learning self-control and self-discipline will improve your child’s ability to deal with temptations, think before he acts, improve his relationships with others, perform better at school, and make him happier in general. Remember, he’s still young and it’s never too late to form new behaviours. He needs your help to show him the right way. So below we’ve got some…

Ways you can help your child develop delayed gratification.

Explain to him why developing delayed gratification is a good and practical thing.

This article should give you all the ammo you need. Another nifty trick is to put on a a judgemental cap and point out someone you both know who has allowed Instant Gratification to run their lives. Then ask if he wants to be like that when he grows up.

Allow small stressors.

Children need small stressors in life to learn coping mechanisms to deal with larger problems. If your child gets everything he wants and is over-protected, then you’re not preparing him for the real world. He must learn to do without certain things and develop patience. It is better for you as the parent to be in control of small disappointments and help your child manage his feelings rather than him being unprepared to deal with inevitable larger ones that are beyond your control.

Set and maintain consistent limits for your child.

These limits will help him to develop a healthy personality and integrate these limits into his self-discipline. For example — if you don’t allow him to eat a whole bar of chocolate (or five) and rather just have one or two pieces as a treat, he will continue that system of discipline later on in his life.

Involve your child in developing his own rules and consequences.

Not only will he be partly responsible for his structures and routine, but this will also allow you to teach him that rules are not arbitrary.

Reward with activities, not objects.

There are times when you’ll want to say yes to your child’s requests — because he’s been on his best behaviour or because it’s just fun to be a hero in his eyes. If you do plan to treat him, let him know beforehand that he can pick out a present and explain why you’re allowing him that treat. But also consider rewarding your child with activities (sleepovers, extra stories at bedtime, an extra-long trip to the park, etc.) rather than objects, so he doesn’t automatically equate rewards with material things.

Create quality time.

Make an effort to slow down and spend time together as a family, preferably away from technology, having fun at home or out in nature.

Learn to say no.

Instead of caving or promising — simply and firmly say, “No, we’re not going to buy that today.” And make that the end of the conversation.

Give your child a heads-up.

If you don’t plan on buying your child a treat at the store, mention that beforehand. While you’re still in the car tell him, “We’re only buying milk and bread at the store — no extras.” Setting limits (and sticking to them) is key for kids struggling with instant gratification.

Be prepared to leave.

If, despite your advance warnings, your child ends up begging for something, consider making an exit regardless of whether or not you’re done shopping. Say: “We talked about this, and you didn’t listen to me. Now there are consequences.” Then stick to your word and go. You’ll show your not-so-spoiled-child that you mean what you say, even if that results in a return visit.

Write it down.

Remember, your child doesn’t necessarily understand the difference between a 50-cent toy from a vending machine and a 50 dollar item from a shelf. So if he sees something expensive that he feels absolutely must have, write it down. Tell him you’ll add it to his birthday or holiday wish list, or that you’ll consider the request if he still wants it in a week (the chances are that he’ll have forgotten about it by then). By writing down the request, your child will know that you’re taking him seriously, but you don’t give in to his instant-gratification behaviour.

Encourage your child to talk about his feelings.

Talking about negative feelings that sprout from disappointment is a great way to deal with problems. Likewise, discussing positive emotions is key to raising your child’s self-esteem.

Watch your own anger.

If you are so frustrated with your child’s actions when he is experiencing a need for instant gratification that you resort to yelling — the situation will only deteriorate and result in your child becoming more ill-disciplined and angry. Being able to control yourself will show him by example that it is not acceptable to yell when you are frustrated.

Cut back on materialism, impulse purchases and instant gratification in your own life.

Be an example. Remember, children learn from what we do, not what we say.

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