Recently I was listening to an interview on NPR about a documentary called Brooklyn Castle. The documentary follows PS [public school] 318’s chess club.
Why do I begin a post on delayed gratification by referencing a chess club documentary? Because this is not just any chess club, it’s an all-inclusive, hard-core, wow-your-socks-off middle school “champion” chess club. Chess requires great focus, patience and persistence to play, and so does practicing delayed gratification.
PS 318 believes that chess can teach life skills and academics in way that few things can, plus it’s fun. This chess club uses the premise of all-inclusive competition. Anyone who consistently shows up to play chess, regardless of ability, can compete. What a great concept. That concept shows kids that all things in life are possible if you use self-control and realize that results are not instantaneous.
Delayed gratification is a key skill that all kids need to learn in order to be successful in life, business and in relationships.
In order for parents to stay the course as they teach delayed gratification, I believe, they first need to understand why delayed gratification is so important.
Goals for Our Kids
All parents want their kids to have the ability to wait, to be patient, to have self-control, and to be able access their will power. Those skills help us all do what’s needed in life to persevere. Some kids are born with those capabilities, but most have to be taught.
No parent wants their kids to follow their peers into dangerous situations disregarding what they know is the right thing to do.
Every parent wants his or her child to be able to save in order to purchase a car or buy a home.
To accomplish those outcomes, and others, parents need to provide experiences that teach a rock solid understanding of how not to give up, how to refocus and ignore the impulse to have it now, and to teach a child that results are not instantaneous.
The Marshmallow Test
A study done in the 1960’s called, The Marshmallow Test proves just how hard it is for a child to resist the immediate gratification of eating one marshmallow and delay their gratification in order to receive two marshmallows. Once you view this video you’ll realize that delaying gratification is not an innate thing, it’s something that must be age appropriately taught, through experience, all the way through childhood.
So how can you teach delayed gratification?
First be clear about your expectations. Your child is learning, she’s not mastered anything yet. There will be frustration, pleading, whining and possible outbursts.
As the say, “The only way out—is through”. Your child has to experience all the obstacles that will rise up and potentially get in the way of practicing delayed gratification so she can accomplish her goal. And parents need to be supportive, not punitive, as a child learns these skills.
Give them opportunities
When your child begs, whines or pleads for things ask yourself, “What kind of adult will my child become if I indulge his every request?” The answer to that question should help stir up the resolve you’ll need to withstand the emotional outcry from a child who’s learning to delay his or her gratification.
Instead of always saying no when your child asks for something, try telling him, “I’ll pay for 50% of what you want, as long as you raise the other 50%.” Of course he’ll say, “I don’t make money, you do!” Offer him chores that have a monetary value attached so he can earn his 50%. This process teaches him how to save and delays his gratification, which inadvertently makes him a less impulsive consumer, a true benefit in the long run.
A few other areas that teach a child about delayed gratification are waiting instead of interrupting, waiting for snacks, learning to manage their allowance, and doing long-term projects.
Some parents lament that we should give our kids what they need as soon as they ask for it. Delaying gratification is filling their needs; it’s just doing it by having a wider perspective of what a true need is.
Sharon Silver is a parent educator—not a perfect parent. She’s the founder of www.proactiveparenting.net, a speaker, blogger, and the author of Stop Reacting and Start Responding. Sharon is passionate about helping parents better understand what’s behind their children’s behavior. Proactive Parenting (dot) net offers online programs and articles that help parents shift their words and actions to reduce yelling and increase cooperation.