Delayed Gratification With Kids

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READING TIME: 3 min.

We live in a culture of “now”.  In the current climate of our world, it’s becoming harder for children to learn the imperative skill of delayed gratification.

Since the Stanford Marshmallow Experiment of 1972, studies have shown that delayed gratification improves SAT scores, lowers levels of substance abuse, and improves responses to stress & social skills. Follow up studies have also shown that self control and behavior regulation can be enhanced by learning delayed gratification.

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Recently, this study made a resurgence on social media. Celebrities and parents all over the country started sharing videos of their children with the trending hashtag #fruitsnackchallenge. Parents challenged their kids to wait a specified length of time without eating a treat with the promise of more after practicing patience. Then, they recorded the results of their child either waiting patiently or giving in to the treat in front of them.

While we didn’t try the #fruitsnackchallenge, my husband and I have found that practicing delayed gratification with our daughter has led to her becoming more responsible and accountable for her behavior and decision making.  Here are two things we have implemented that have led to her success with delayed gratification.

Strategies for Teaching Delayed Gratification

Delayed Gratification through Dessert Budgeting

We allow our daughter to choose 3 nights a week to have dessert.  She is responsible for tracking her choices on a calendar on the refrigerator.  She makes these decisions all on her own. Our daughter has realized that saving dessert for the end of the week tends to be a better choice.

Since we have more time at the end of the week, we can typically go out as a family for ice cream or bake treats together.  The end result is her choosing not to have a dessert early in the week because she knows that the better treats come later.  This is a great example of her understanding of “Delayed Gratification.”

Delayed Gratification through a Behavior Point System

Thanks to a suggestion from our daughter’s kindergarten teacher, we recently came up with a point system to track behavior.  Our daughter decides what she wants as a reward, and we give her a goal number to work for.  For example, a trip to Arbuckle Wilderness is 100 points, whereas a trip to Bahama Bucks is 20 points.

Once she sets a goal for herself, she can earn points for having good behavior, being helpful, or doing chores.  Likewise, she can lose points for having sour behavior, fighting with her sister, or giving attitude.  She is responsible for keeping the tally of her points on a dry erase board in our office.  This gives her ownership of the process and serves as a tactile reminder for each point lost or gained.  As time has passed, we have noticed her willingness to accept a longer delay for a greater reward.

As parents, it’s our job to give our children the most effective tools possible to help them become successful adults. Our daughter now has the ability to look at a situation in the context of how it will affect her in the long run.  In addition to developing delayed gratification, we have seen these processes as a great introduction to goal setting and progress tracking.  All of these are skills she will benefit from later in life.

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