But wait, there’s more!
Guest Blogger, Dr Judith Locke
Putting off current pleasure for future gain (aka delayed gratification) is a fundamentally important skill for a child to develop in order to become successful and achieve the things they want. The ability to stop current immediate pleasure (watching TV, eating chocolate, spending money) will enable the sorts of activities that will ensure future longer-term pleasure (studying and eventually gaining the job you desire, becoming healthy, buying a first bike or car).
Mischel’s famous 1960’s marshmallow study is a clever test of a child’s ability to delay gratification. In this experiment, he put one marshmallow on the table and told the child they could eat that now or, if they waited a short time, they could get another marshmallow so they would have two marshmallows to eat. Some could wait, some couldn’t.
While the marshmallow test seems mild and amusing, research has actually shown that the pre-school children who could wait with a goal in mind rated higher by parents in tests of cognitive and social competence in their junior and senior high school years. Their parents also described them as better able to concentrate and cope with frustration and stress.
So how do you ensure your child receives this skill?
While the delayed gratification skill seems innate in some children, certain parenting approaches can either encourage it to develop or allow it to fade. Buying everything your child wants as soon as they express the desire, is not giving them the opportunity to learn the typical process of gaining desirable things – namely, you typically have to delay gratification and work for them to get them.
Behaviour charts and daily chores are a fantastic way to assist young children to understand it is their efforts that earn them special things. Older children can have part-time work, or do chores such as cleaning out the gutters or mowing the lawn, to earn them the ‘extra, special’ things. These chores should be on top of the basic ones they do as being a contributing member of a family (i.e. washing up, cleaning their mess). Even not allowing a child to get the good parts of the weekend (TV, seeing friends) until they have done the tiresome elements (cleaning their room, doing homework) will assist them in understanding the way the world actually works.
If you ask any adult what they are most proud of in their life, often the person talks about some hardship they went through, long hours of work, doubts overcome, to ensure that life improved for them. It is a very rare person who will talk with pride about something that came easily to them or was bought for them without any effort on their part.
Unfortunately, many parents who have put in extreme effort to get into financially and emotionally good positions, go on to reward their children by providing everything for them and not allowing them to develop the very skills that were initially required for the family’s prosperity. But… give your children the opportunity to learn how to have pride and sense of accomplishment from their efforts and they will reap the rewards now, and later.
Dr Judith Locke is a clinical psychologist, former teacher, and the author of The Bonsai Child.