What do impulsivity, self-discipline and willpower have in common?
They often require a conscious decision to delay gratification and for many people, that is a real challenge.
Here are five strategies you can begin practicing immediately that can help your children experience success with delayed gratification:
1. Make Waiting Fun: Depending on the age and difficulty for your child, purposely set up moments where they have to wait for something good to happen and offer a fun strategy while waiting. Counting, singing, telling jokes, moving their body, looking for colorful objects, are different ways to pass time while ‘waiting.’ As they sense the pleasure of ‘success’ you can gradually increase the delayed gratification time. You will be helping them practice the ‘art’ of self-control.
2. Build Trust That Good Stuff Comes: When self discipline is needed during the course of your child’s day make sure that promises are kept and time frames are realistic. If you tell your child you’ll be with them in 5 minutes and you lose track of time yourself, you are teaching your child that delays often go on indefinitely and this can inadvertently create the inner tension that drives an urgency to get needs met immediately.
3. Young Children Do Not Understand the Concept of Time: When helping toddlers and pre schoolers develop their ‘waiting muscles’ use concrete place holders rather than abstract concepts.
Examples of this are: “After you are all dry from your bath we’ll put on your pajamas and read this book.” “When daddy puts his glasses on it will be time to watch the movie.”
4. Be a Role Model of Self Control: Let children watch you practice adult delayed gratification (without pontificating of course!) Share your own strategies for self-restraint. For example, let them know how challenging it is for you to wait for an important phone call and think out loud several different things you can do while waiting.
5. Be Realistic: Children who are hungry, tired or stressed after a busy day will be less capable of impulse control so the best you can do is relax your expectations, remove them from inappropriate environments and show empathy when they break down. A good snuggle is often the most effective remedy for soothing and self-regulation at the end of a stressful day.