Saturday, September 20, 2014

The Importance of Teaching Delayed Gratification

Mamma I want…

Mamma can I have this…


Taking the kids on a quick trip to the store can be at times over whelming and the rest of the time just frustrating.  The check out stand - no matter where you are - is filled with delicious goodies put at just the right height for our children's eyes, hands, and mouths.

A few nights ago, I had to run to Walmart in search of a Hawaiian Lei for Laui day at school. I did such trip during soccer practice when I "only" had Gracie (6) and Ann (2).  It should have been a quick, in-n-out trip.  Except we somehow ended up in the girls clothing isle.

Oh Boy.

My Little Pony Pajamas, Frozen T-Shirts, Pink Sparkle Headbands… you name it and my daughters wanted it.  So I responded with my pat answer "lets put that on your list".  See, ever since my kids have been able to ask for things, my response is that they can "put it on their list".  This has worked really well.

Last night, not so well.

Gracie just had her birthday.  She is old enough to realize that Christmas

" like FOUR months away and besides mom I didn't get a lot of what I wanted for my birthday!".

Gracie got PLENTY for her birthday, but no, she didn't get everything.    As I explained to Gracie as we walked to the car (without anything special for her), her father and I have agreed that we will not just buy our kids what they want all the time, rather we will purchase them what they need.  And we are so blessed to be able to do that!  Birthdays and Christmas are for those special things that they love.  So is their allowance.

Our dialogue went something like this:

G:  But you never buy me anything.

She says as she is wearing the new (target clearance) PE shorts that I just brought her (no joke) THAT DAY.

Me:  Look at your shorts honey. What are you wearing?

G:  But I really want those things.

Me: The world is fully of wonderful things that you and I both like.  We can't buy everything we like. We need to appreciate things without purchasing them.  Your Dad works very hard for this money and I am not going to just give it away.  So just as I am not going to give you $20 from my wallet, I am not going to just spend $20 on something just because you like it.

G: But The Boys always buys things.

Me: That is because the boys spend their allowance money on things they want. They do their chores, they save their money, and then when they want something they can decide to buy or not buy that item.

G: But I never get any money.

Me:  Well lets start keeping track of your chores and you can save for something special.

We live in a fast food, instant gratification culture.  My kids hover in the pantry and try to sneak food as I am COOKING DINNER!  I am moments away from putting it on the table and they are asking me for a bowl of cereal.  Are you kidding me? The witching hour is the worst!

But the bigger problem is clear.  Kids need to learn to WAIT for what they want.  They need to learn to be patient, and they need to learn to appreciate the anticipation of something wonderful to come.

I know many parents, and I have found myself among them at time, who don't tell their kids about fun stuff that is coming up.  They may have a wonderful play date scheduled for all week long for Friday afternoon - and they wait until 5 minutes before the play date to tell their child. Why? Well out of the kindness of their hearts they don't want the child to be disappointed if things don't work out.  But they rob their child of the anticipation, the looking forward to, the excitement of waiting for something fun.

Instead they say "Want to play with your buddy? Great, let's go".

When we ask our children to delay gratification, we are asking them to practice their self-control.  We ask them to master their bodies and temper their physical desires in the short term.  We are allowing them to practice a really important life skill!

Why is this important? I am sure I don't have to list out the social problems associated with impulsive behavior as adolescents, but let's do it for fun…

Premarital sex 
Unprotected sex
Drug use
Alcohol abuse
Drunk driving

Is it really this big of a deal? Keep reading!

Think of it this way, over 50 years ago a researcher names Mischel conducted a series of studies about delayed gratification, at Stanford, with kids.  He did a bunch of variation,s and so did other researchers, but basically they put a kid in front of a marshmallow (or other treat) and told him if he wanted he could eat it, BUT if he waited for the researcher to return (about 15 minutes) he would get two marshmallows.  The videos of this and similar research is hilarious to watch.  The older kids that couldn't help it and popped the marshmallow into their mouths were labeled as struggling with delayed gratification.

When they did follow up research, they found that those children who could wait, faired better in life.  Statistically they were more likely do well on a host or variables as adults (such as SAT's, had lower BMI, and higher education attainment).

Do I have you on board here with me on how important it is?  

Are you ready for the "what can I do  to help?".
The answer is don't give in.

Let them wait. Encourage them to have a good attitude about it.

When they want something, make them earn it or make them wait for their Christmas or Birthday.

You decide what they have to do to earn it, but don't just buy them stuff because they asked for it.

Never buy them the treats at the check out counter in order to get them to be quiet while you shop, and certainly never reward their temper tantrums with a 'okay honey you must really want it here I will buy it for you' response.  There are ALL SORTS of things wrong with that one.

Don't settle for the short term fix (giving the crying kid the lollipop) just to quiet them.  In doing so you teach them that if they cry loud enough they will get what they want and that is a long term problem!

At home, set them up to practice delayed gratification.

First, don't drop what you are doing every time your child calls your name.  Finish what you are doing.  Lord knows if I stopped doing my thing everything they wanted something I never would get a meal made or post written or a bill payed! It is good for our kids to learn to wait and you shouldn't feel guilty about making them wait for you to finish up what you are doing.

Second, set up rules or parameters surrounding electronics.  Maybe have your TV only during a certain hour of the day.  In our day of DVR and movies on demand, kids don't ever have to wait for any entertainment.  So you should build it in.  Our kids have to finish their work first (school work and chores) and can't watch on certain days.

Third, give them fun things to look forward too.  At the end of the day, every night I used to go through the 'next day' with my eldest.  He would want to know what we had on the schedule and what he could look forward too.  Still to this day he likes to plan things out and know what is coming.  Having an  appreciation for anticipating the future is a sister-skill to delayed gratification.

Fourth, practice it as a family and talk about it.  During Lent, as a family we go without meat.  We fast on certain days of the year.  My husband and I practice NFP.  We discuss our own cravings and why we aren't giving into those.  "Oh I agree ice cream sounds soooo good right now - lets try to get some this weekend as a special treat".   My daughter is obsessed with ZoYo frozen yogurt (okay me too).  But she knows we only go on the 1/2 price night or fun fridays, and we don't do that EVERY week, just as a treat.

As you help your children practice their delayed gratification look at your own life.  As I was writing this post I had to hop up and grab a handful of chocolate covered almonds.  They are fabulous.  I could have eaten the whole container.  At least I waited until nap time at least so that I wasn't polluting Ann too!  When you want that extra glass of wine, or that second cookie, or that coffee drink that costs as much as a meal, talk yourself through it.  Maybe promise yourself that you can have it tomorrow instead and practice building your own self-control and patience, which are really at the heart of delayed gratification.

Like many of these life lessons the earlier you start the better. There isn't however a critical period for developing in this area.  Adults, teens, and little ones alike can grow in this area with a little work and a lot of effort from Mom and Dad.   It is worth it… and ironically when you are in the thick of the battle with the kids… realize that you yourself are practicing delayed gratification - because your payoff in working with them now will come later, when your kids are able to wait for the good stuff without battles.

Thanks for stopping by and good luck!

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