Imagine you are cooking dinner and your child is starving. You tell him to wait, but he whines and cries and pouts. You are tired of listening to him, whine so you allow him to have a snack. Teaching kids self-control is hard.
Or imagine you are at a store and your child sees a toy that he really, really, really wants more than anything in the whole world. You just want some peace while you shop, so you let him have the toy and agree to buy it at the end of the shopping trip.
Or imagine you child desperately wants to play at a friend’s house, but right now you are leaving as a family for a commitment or obligation. You child does not want to go with you. He wants to go to a friend’s house. Okay fine. You make a concession and allow him to go to the friend’s house instead.
What if I told you holding your boundary firm and making your child wait was the single most important skill you can teach your child.
Teaching kids self-control or delayed gratification.
Research shows that Children with worse self-control (less persistence, more impulsivity and poor attention regulation) at ages 3-11 tend to have worse health, earn less, and commit more crimes 30 years later than those with better self-control as children. (Source: Zero to Five).
Have you ever heard of the marshmallow test?
The Marshmallow Test was a series of studies on delayed gratification in the late 1960s and early 1970s at Stanford University. In these studies, kids were offered a choice: get one reward right now or wait twenty minutes and get two rewards. The reward was often a pretzel, marshmallow, or mint.
The single reward was placed on the table, while the researcher left the room for about 20 minutes. As each child sat alone in the room staring at their marshmallow, they had to decide to wait and get double the marshmallows or eat the single marshmallow without waiting.
In follow-up studies, the researchers found that children who were able to wait longer for the larger reward tended to have better life outcomes. This was measured by test scores, educational achievement, healthy weight in adulthood, and more.
20+ ways to teach kids self-control or delayed gratification.
You need not do all these things all the time or make them an exclusive part of your everyday life. Pick what works well for your family and use it when it’s best for your parenting style and kids ™ personalities. Here are a few ideas to get you started:
- Play red light, green light.
- Teach kids to save money for something bigger they really want.
- Create an end of the day reward if kids complete all their chores.
- Teach kids to wait for dinner, despite being hungry, rather than giving snacks close to mealtimes.
- Play games that require focus and attention like memory.
- Teach your child to wait at the end of the line instead of cutting in front.
- Play freeze tag.
- Teach your kids to put a toy they really want on their birthday or Christmas list rather than buying it right away.
- Help your child practice yoga or meditation (this could be as simple as asking them to take 5 deep breaths) where they must sit still for a certain period of time.
- Have a staring contest.
- Teach your child to wait for another child to finish using a toy before he can play with it.
- Play follow the leader.
- Play the quiet game where everyone needs to be as quiet as possible and the first person to talk or make noise is out.
- Have kids sit for storytime to improve focusing skills.
- Complete a listening activity where your child must repeat back instructions to you.
- Have kids play alone for at least 30 minutes a day. This encourages kids to have enough self-control to problem solve with their toys and entertain themselves without outside support.
- Teach kids to wait to interrupt you using the interrupt rule: putting their hand on your shoulder or leg to let you know they need to interrupt you.
- Teach your children how to wait for a treat like a cookie or a cupcake.
- Teach your kids to self-regulate emotions. If your child is fussing or protesting, allow your child the opportunity to calm themselves a bit before intervening.
- Praise for effort and encourage hard work to achieve goals, rather than doing the work for your kids.
- Teach your kids to help with chores around the house before earning the privilege to watch movies, play outside, or do fun activities.
Delayed gratification (or self-control) is the single most important skill you can teach your child. This valuable skill not only translates into better-behaved children (it really does!), but it also shapes them into fabulous adults and develops great listening skills which are all we can hope for our kids!