Teaching Children To Delay Gratification!

Do you remember have a cream biscuit when you were a child? You know the kind that has cream in the middle of two biscuits? How did you eat it? The whole thing in one go? Or did you do what I did? I would take it apart. Eat the plain side first and leave the cream-covered one for last. That way I got the taste of the cream better and saved the best for last.

Teaching Children To Delay Gratification! - Value Of Delayed Gratification

Unbeknown to me, I was following the principle of delayed gratification with biscuits.

Delayed gratification, or deferred gratification, is the ability to resist the temptation for an immediate reward and wait for a later reward. Generally, delayed gratification is associated with resisting a smaller but more immediate reward in order to receive a larger or more enduring reward later. – Source Wikipedia 

I do believe we’d be doing our children a great service if we taught them to practice this in their daily life. It’s never to early to start the process of delaying gratification with your children. Baby crying? Your first motherly instinct is to pick her up right away. Let her cry a little longer. It won’t hurt her, I promise.

Looking for ways to entertain an infant? You don’t have to do that all the time. Create a little space where she can learn to play by herself for a little while everyday. Once it’s part of her routine, she’ll love it. It frees you up to have some ‘you’ time too.

Many parents find it hard to say ‘no’ to their kids. I’ve watched parents looking helplessly as children fill the shopping carts in super-markets with all the candy and snacks they can get their hands on. I’ve watched kids quietly put their vegetables to the side of their plates, eat all the food they like and then choke on the vegetables, until their Mum felt sorry for them and took the plate away! What if we taught them the value of delayed gratification instead?

You set your expectations for their behavior and what will be the ‘reward’ for them. This involves you entering into a contract of sorts with your child: “If you do this, you will get this……..”

Instead of saying ‘no’, you say: “You can have that candy over a week, if you agree to ………….”

Instead of throwing out those vegetables, you say:  “Eat your vegetables first, then all the other food you like. If you do I will give you an extra slice of cake……”

Instead of saying ‘no, we can’t afford that’ you say: “I will buy the cycle, if you agree that I deduct a portion of your pocket-money towards the cost of it……”

Be prepared for whining, bargaining, temper tantrums at first. Stick to your guns. Children are wise – they’ll realize pretty what they’re missing out on and fall in line. 🙂

As the child gets older there are several times you can delay gratification – like letting them have a candy treat only after a proper meal. You can also teach them the value of not interrupting you when you are talking to someone else on the phone or in person. The reward for this? A few minutes of your undivided attention when you finish your conversation.

Similarly you can help children set goals for themselves, with rewards. “If I study one chapter by 5 o’clock, I can play Angry Birds for 10 minutes.”

If you teach your children the value of delayed gratification, you’ll be giving them a life-skill that will see them through a lot of difficult situations in life.

Corinne Rodrigues used to be a teacher to teenagers and has a lot of experience counseling and working with troubled youth. She is now a full-time blogger at Everyday Gyaan.

  • Hi Corinne, I am at the other end of the spectrum. I delay gratification forever, haha. For example, if I get a pen as a gift, I lock it up in my cupboard for later use. And the ink dries up totally before I decide to use it 2-3 years down the line.

    • That’s not exactly delayed gratification when you’re not getting to enjoy something you deserve, Divya. What you shared comes in the category of hoarding! Just kidding 😉

  • Roshni

    Yup! This is something we do constantly with our kids! So much so that we still have Halloween candy left over even though the jar containing it sits right at the kitchen counter in front of their eyes.

    • That’s great, Roshni. Still have Halloween candy? It wouldn’t have lasted so long in my house – and I don’t even have kids! 😉

  • I couldn’t agree with you more. I realize this now. My girl’s going to be 3 this summer and this whole delayed gratification was never an issue for us until recently. We never found the need to say No .. so what if she wanted to scribble on herself, so what if she wanted to play with dough .. these were all fun sensorial activities we never found the need to say No to or found the need to delay her gratification. There were times when she had to wait for what she wanted and she was just fine waiting. Hitting her 2.5 broke this completely. Terrible twos rants on instant gratification have hit the roof. And it’s come out of nowhere. There was no telling this was coming! There’s one of two lessons I could take here … consciously practicing delayed gratification when they’re much much younger like you point out with the carrying and crying as simple examples or letting it run it’s course and changing the tide during the 2-3 yrs. Both are equally hard … one of the hardest things to do as a parent I think especially when the requests seem so harmless.

    • Thanks for sharing, Crunch. I think the one thing that parents can tell themselves is that they’re not in it to win popularity. At times your kids will seem to hate you and your decisions. It’s important to remember the long-term – that they’ll see the wisdom of your decisions some day and respect you for it.

  • chattywren

    A very thought-provoking post and I whole-heartedly that delaying gratification is very important habit to inculcate in young children. When we see adults who do binge-eating, who can’t control their emotional responses, you realise how important this is towards character-building. Like your practical examples on how parents can achieve the same. Hmm, need to work on my kids and myself too!

    • Thank you, ChattyWren. Yes, I do believe that delayed gratification goes a long way in building character. And you’re so right, we adults need to practice a lot more too. 😉