My daughter and I strolled through the bakery section of the grocery store. “Yum!” she said. “Let’s get some muffins!” I picked up the package of big, blueberry muffins. But before I dropped it in my cart, I remembered something. “You just learned how to make muffins in your life skills class. Why don’t we go home and make muffins together instead of buying some?” Her shoulders slumped and her smile disappeared. I could tell by her lack of enthusiasm she didn’t want to go through the steps. She just wanted a muffin—now.
We live in an age of instant gratification. Do you want to know a little thing you can do now to truly help your kids live fulfilling lives? Resist giving them what they want right away. Here are 3 reasons delayed gratification for kids is good for them and how you can work it into your day-to-day life.
1. They get comfortable with discomfort.
“I’m so hungry! Can’t I have a snack bar?” my daughter asked. I checked the clock above the stove. “Dinner should be ready in an hour. Hang in there.” She groaned, flopping into a chair, but eventually accepted my answer. Later, after we’d eaten, she asked if we could have ice cream. “Let’s save it for Saturday,” I replied. “We can celebrate the end of a busy week.” She frowned but agreed.
It can be stressful to wait for something you want. But getting everything instantly doesn’t let kids practice handling feelings of sadness or discontent. Instead of hitting the drive-thru on the way home, make a tasty dish together and show your child that a really fresh meal takes time and effort. A child who can handle the discomfort of not getting what she wants right away is going to be better able to handle tough stuff as an adult, like finding the right job or spouse.
2. They learn how to work for what they want.
“I hate this class,” my son said. He had all A’s in middle school until algebra came along in eighth grade. He spent hours on this class. He struggled. He wanted to give up. But, with some encouragement, he didn’t. The class ruined his GPA, but he learned more than math in algebra. “That class taught you how to work hard at something,” I told him. “And I’m grateful for that. You learned persistence, you developed grit, and your mental toughness increased tenfold.” And he’d already applied some of those skills to other aspects of his life, like Boy Scouts and the swim team. Some things take time to master and I’m glad he’s learning that now.
Delayed gratification for kids can be tough at first. Easy A’s are great, but learning the value of hard work over a period of time will help kids grow into more confident adults because they’ll see the fruits of their labor. If your child wants to quit baseball, spend time in the back yard working on his swing. If he wants a new jacket, encourage him to work for the money first instead of giving him the jacket up front and having him earn the money afterward.
3. They’ll be better prepared for adulthood.
“If you want one, you’ll have to buy it yourself,” I told my son years ago. At the time, he complained, “Everyone has one. Even my cousins have an X-Box!” Apparently, if my own sister would buy her kids such a great toy, I should do the same. “Sorry, bud. We don’t always get what we want when we want it.” I paused. “But you can save up.” We talked a little about wants and needs and how I didn’t always get what I wanted either. Part of growing up is learning delayed gratification.
Part of growing up is learning delayed gratification.
Giving my son an X-Box would not only have made him happy, but it would have been a great way for him to stay entertained when I needed to get things done. But gaming systems are pricey, and it wasn’t as if he didn’t have other toys. According to psychotherapist Ilene S. Cohen, “People who learn how to manage their need to be satisfied in the moment thrive more in their careers, relationships, health, and finances than people who give in to it.” I want my children to thrive as adults, so I know I need to put in the tough work now and not give in to their every desire.
In what ways do you teach delayed gratification for kids in your home?
ASK YOUR CHILD…
What do you want to do together this weekend?