As we discussed in last week's blog post, a key concept to help our children to master is that of delayed gratification. This is the ability to put off or resist an immediate reward in order to gain a larger reward later. Helping our sons and daughters learn this important skill can set them up for greater success and satisfaction in life.
Lets look at several simple ways we can teach our children how to delay gratification:
· Play Impulse Control Games- When our kids are young, an easy way to teach and practice delayed gratification is by playing impulse control games like “Simon Says”, “Red Light / Green Light”, or “Follow the Leader”.
· Teach About Feelings vs. Behaviors- Help children control their impulses by helping them learn the difference between feelings and behaviors. For example, if your young child throws or hits things when he or she gets angry, you could explain that although he or she is feeling mad, it is not okay to act out because of that anger. Understanding the difference between feelings and behaviors will help your child better control impulses.
· Practice Problem Solving Skills- Problem solving skills are essential to delayed gratification. Help your child learn how to think about the pros and cons to decisions before he or she acts. For smaller decisions, kids can mentally think or talk about the pros and cons of a decision. However, for larger decisions, encourage your child to make a list of the pros and cons of each option he or she is considering.
· Provide Clear and Consistent Rules and Expectations- Keeping clear and consistent family rules and expectations as your children are growing allows them to gain firsthand experience of the impact of the choices they make. They can use that experience and apply it to decisions outside of the home, learning their actions have consequences and that some decisions are better than others.
· Model Delayed Gratification- One of the best ways to teach your children how to delay gratification is to model it. Let your son or daughter see you put off an immediate reward for a later, longer lasting one, and talk about it with him or her. If, for example, your family loves to eat sweets, you might model to your children that you choose to have a nice dessert once or twice a week, rather than eating candy daily. By waiting to eat your dessert and talking about your reasons for doing it, you model healthier eating habits and a willingness to delay gratification in your life.
Delayed gratification is a very important skill for children of all ages to master. When kids are young, the consequences of impulsive decisions are usually fairly small. As children grow, the consequences of their decisions are much greater. Many young people, for example, look forward to graduating from high school, but dread moving on to college or technical training. The reward for those extra years of schooling is greater financial security and more control over many aspects of one’s life. Watch for ways to help your children learn the power of delayed gratification for making better decisions in life.