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teaching your children to delay gratification - an Aristotle quote, "Through Discipline Comes Freedom."

Teaching Your Children to Delay Gratification

Have you thought about explicitly teaching your children delayed gratification along with self-discipline? If you haven’t, you should. Delayed gratification is a disappearing concept and with it the art of self-discipline.

The ability to delay gratification is an essential component of any responsible life. “Gratification” just means you’ve satisfied your desires.

In the late 1960s and early 1970s, psychologist Walter Mischel conducted some experiments at Stanford University where he offered to preschool children the option of one reward immediately or two in fifteen minutes.

The study showed the children who could wait for their cookie or marshmallow had better peer relationships, academic achievement, and life outcomes all the way into adulthood.

This is a powerful result that shouldn’t be taken lightly.

There are three things delayed gratification enables your children to do. It allows them:

  1. To control their emotions and impulses because they have the ability to think before acting and make the right choice.
  2. To set goals and work toward them. Many tasks in life require the ability to stay the course by working incrementally toward something.
  3. It enables them to say no to things that aren’t good for them because they have the capacity to curb their desires.

We live in an entitlement culture. Being entitled is the exact opposite of delaying gratification.

If you’re entitled, it means you’re owed, and there’s no reason to consider delaying your indulgence, because after all, it’s yours already. The entitlement culture is a disaster.

Today’s employers say young people have poor work skills, poor social skills, and poor personal skills. They expect to be paid well from the beginning and are unwilling to work their way up in a company.

Many adult children haven’t learned how to be self-responsible and still think their parents should be paying their bills.

So how can you teach your children to delay gratification? Consider doing the following:

  • Start young. The Stanford study saw the ability to delay gratification at four years of age correlated with the capacity to succeed throughout life.
  • Don’t give in to whining and demanding from an early age. Figure out how to ignore the child or stop the child’s demands.
  • Teach your children the rewards of waiting for what they want to outweigh getting it instantly. You can teach children to save money for something larger rather than spending it right away for something small. You can do all the chores early in the week so you can take a whole day or weekend to do something special. Look for opportunities to point out waiting for something is worth it.
  • Teach your children to set goals and track their progress toward those aims. Celebrate and praise your child’s ability to achieve goals. Have a party or acknowledge your child’s achievement in front of friends and family.
  • Don’t give in to the culture that gives children every material pleasure there is. Explain how commercials are advertisements meant to connect emotionally and make you want what they are selling even though you don’t want it and how that can lead to bad purchasing choices.
  • Talk about how you make choices to delay gratification and how that leads to the right things in your life. If you struggle with doing so, be honest about your struggles. Let your children know you value this character trait and are working on making sure you also have it.  
  • Make sure your children know they aren’t entitled to having things just because everyone else does or just because they are your children. Tell them you expect them to work for things and learn how to value them.
  • Teach them strategies to delay gratification. The children in the Stanford study that waited to eat the treat used strategies to control their impulses. They looked at the ceiling, sat on their hands, and avoided looking at the treat. It’s these skills that carry over into other areas throughout their lives.
  • Teach your child how to save money. Offer them an allowance and ways to work for more money and then encourage them to save at least 10% and give away 10%.
  • Set up a budget for their needs. From an early age, explain how much you are spending for school clothes and other things and then keep track of what is spent. When the money is gone, there is no more to spend. Your kids will start looking at tags to see how much things cost. They will teach themselves how to wait for better deals and more popular items.
  • Help your children to problem solve, so they become competent in their ability to handle situations for themselves with your guidance, as needed.
  • Be clear what you will pay for and not pay for. Do you pay for entertainment, snacks, toys, school supplies, school clothes, special trips, cell phone, car insurance, etc.? Talk about it with your children, come to an agreement, and stick to it.
  • Teach and model emotional intelligence, which is the ability to identify emotions, label them, and then choose how to respond to them in an appropriate way. This way, your children will learn how to control their emotions.
  • Teach your children the difference between a want and a need and how to control impulses and desires.

Teaching your kids delayed gratification pays big dividends for you and your children for your entire lives.

It’s worth it, even if you have to use self-discipline to delay your gratification while you’re teaching them.

About The Author

This post is by Karla Downing, M.A., Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist, author and founder of ChangeMyRelationship. Karla grew up in a dysfunctional family and eventually found herself in a difficult marriage. Through her personal struggles, she discovered biblical and practical principles she now teaches to others to change their lives and relationships. I’m signed up for her free relationship tips and truths. I encourage you to visit her website and sign up for them.

The goal of parents in a blended family is the same as those in an intact family – to raise your children to be responsible, capable and confident adults. Click here to get 15 tips how.

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