Delayed Gratification

Bringing children up to understand the truth in delayed gratification is not easy in this modern world of instant communications, fast food and immediate results but helping them to appreciate that not everything needs to happen NOW entrenches neural pathways of patience and understanding as well as encouraging pro activity that will take them further in the longer term.

Children, more and more, are expecting everything to happen on the touch of a button and to get instant results but equally more and more, whilst short term action may pay dividends now, medium term planning and long term projections still hold water and ultimately may well be more gratifying than any short term answers in the longevitiy.

Nurturing our children to look ahead and plan for the future across the board also have proven links to improved academic performance as well as more self-regulation of emotions both during the informative years and later on in life.  The Stanford Marshmallow Experiment (1972) exemplified this very well.  Children aged between 3 years 6 months and 5 years 8 months were led into a room with a treat such as a marshmallow on the table.  They were then told that they if they waited to eat the treat until the experimenter returned to the room they would be given two.  The experimenter then left the room for 15 minutes.  On returning, as promised, if the child hadn’t eaten the treat they were given two.  Although age played a part in the outcomes, a follow-up study correlated those children with the ability to resist the first treat and wait for two treats with greater success later on.   This study has been replicated many times since with similar results.

Whilst therefore, it is critical to appreciate the development stage that a child is in the study shows how important it is for parents to encourage children to achieve delayed gratification.  For example, it is unlikely that a small child will have the concentration to allow the time needed whereas an older child can be encouraged to see a goal that may be further away whilst enjoying the small steady steps to achieve it.  It is also important to appreciate as a parent that No means no and when we say no to our children and encourage them to wait for something this helps them build the muscle necessary for many other life’s lessons.

In the same way that as adults we sometimes have to appreciate that outcomes may not be instant and that working slowly towards a target may well result in larger dividends, so too do our children, need to understand that small steady steps can actually progress to larger rewards in the longer term more so than a short mad dash to the finish immediately.

For instance, musical lessons working steadily and surely to gain mastery and control of an instrument may lead to a lifelong love and appreciation of music, which in some cases may craft a career or interesting opportunities elsewhere.  Or working towards targets at school, embracing small successes and even acknowledging the learning curves on route may result in fulfilling lessons and results academically.

As much as a crash diet doesn’t work, children need to be discouraged from expecting instant gratification.  They need to be encouraged into short term action, mid term planning and long term projection simultaneously. They need boundaries set and then they need to be helped to respect them.  To sacrifice any of these leads to a functional myopia that can have short comings otherwise in their life, their dreams or even their business later on!

Helping them appreciate the minutia on route with an eye on their goals, addressing issues as they come along whilst maintaining a focus and determination is no easy job but when children develop progressively towards this maxim they stand a better chance later on in life.

An example is the dieter who crash diets in a yoyo fashion.  They go up and down the scales never really satisfied with the end result.  By looking to the future and planning ahead, accepting the slower weight loss that comes from a carefully managed longer term plan they too could rejoice in the reward that delayed gratification brings.

Another example is apparent by those who succumbed to the spend now, think later generation of the late 90’s and early 2000’s and who then were crippled by debts being called in or those which had grown out of control.

It is therefore vital that our children grow up to be patient and to truly understand the power of delayed gratification in their lives so that both as children, and later as adults, they reap the rewards of success, fulfilment and well-deserved satisfaction.  We can help them in many ways, no more so than by not giving into their whims and fancies but by serving them in parenting with love whilst nurturing a wholesome respect and responsibility so that they learn to do the same in their own lives. 

Delayed Gratification

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