Three Keys to Successful Kids – Key 1: Delayed Gratification

I’ve started a new three part series on some specific concepts that will make successful kids. Three Keys to Success: Delayed Gratification, Self-Discipline and Curiosity. This month I will focus on delayed gratification.

What is delayed gratification, exactly? It sounds interesting enough, but the challenge is learning how to teach little people a concept that is well-known (and sometimes begrudgingly accepted) by adults.

Delayed gratification is simply helping children understand that they will not always get what they want when they want it. A valuable life-long skill, it helps children learn to curb impulses and intrinsically find the motivation to wait knowing that something better will come along. In order to teach children an abstract concept you must focus on the behavior first, with age-appropriate explanations. They may not understand the exact term “delayed gratification” but children can easily learn to predict that A behaviors will lead to B rewards or consequences.

First, start small. Young children (pre-school) might not connect time or even charts with rewards. Use terms like “you will have to wait”, “No” and “Not now”. Encourage sharing toys with other children and taking turns. By learning to let another child play with a toy they will learn that they must wait, and more importantly, that waiting isn’t all that bad. Small children will need your constant guidance and modeling to help make this a clearer concept.

As children get older, you can start to introduce more visual aids. Kindergarten and elementary school children love sticker charts. Let me emphasize LOVE. I use charts of all sorts when I get the chance. It cuts down having to repeat directives a million times, and it is a quick simple response. If a child makes a good choice – bam! Sticker on the chart! They get a small reward, and can then move on to wait for something better. When they see visual rewards for good behaviors and connect “if I earn 20 stickers, I get candy” they will quickly learn to put off their desires and make better choices. It is also helpful for you, the parent, to see the good choices your children are making. At times, it may feel like you are always giving consequences for bad behavior. Each time you get discouraged you can look at that chart and (hopefully) be reminded of the good things you see happening. The key to charts is praise, consistency, and follow-through. If you set a limit with your children and they meet it, you must do your end of the deal.

Another key area where delayed gratification can be taught is with money. Kids seem to understand the idea that money is a good thing from a relatively early age. Once you start seeing your kids taking an interest in money, or are thinking of giving them an allowance, that’s when it’s time to pull out the mason jars. Yep, the age-old learning to separate your money method. We’ve all heard it before, and that’s because it works. Take the money your child has and split it up into different jars savings, spending. Have them split up their money and only give some to spend so they can see how using money really works. This is probably the biggest real-life example that will serve your kids best – learning to manage their own money.

Now is the perfect time to start helping your kids develop delayed gratification. Although we live in a world where instant gratification reigns supreme, we are all too quickly realizing that giving in has no long-term benefits. The sooner you can learn to say “hey, I’ll pass on that” the sooner you will be in a place that lets you have the happy and content life you want.