Life for a Kid is all About Fun: Teaching Delayed Gratification


Do you struggle with getting your kids to wait until later for things that they want to do? Is it hard to prioritize your tasks because your kids are constantly wanting to play? Or, do you have trouble getting them to do tasks that will have a long-term payoff?


Kids don't understand adult priorities, and that we need to buckle down and work, or get the dishes done.


They don't care if the house is a mess, or if they are still wearing their pajamas at 2pm with uncombed hair.


Kids see life from a different perspective than we do as adults.


This morning, I was trying to write an article, and I had my two baby kittens jump in my lap, I said to myself, "You two don't understand that mommy has to work." I realized, my daughter doesn't understand that either.


Kids only see what is happening right here, right now. They don't understand the consequences of their actions. Especially long-reaching consequences.


To some extent, we all want that instant gratification dopamine hit. But we have to learn as we get older to think long-term instead of always just thinking short-term. Otherwise it becomes difficult to meet our goals.


According to Psychology Today,

This is worthy of consideration because many of the activities that promote instant gratification are linked to unhealthy behaviors. Over time, the ability to quickly satisfy a desire for low-quality, disease-inducing foods takes a real toll on our bodies. The unrestrained purchasing of whatever online good piques our interest creates a major burden on our credit card statement, and our constant drive to check in on social media, even while spending time with friends and family, lowers the quality of our in-person interactions.

In short, instant gratification is often not good for us. It is a distraction because of the chemical rush in our brains. We learn that we need everything now, we need everything faster.


Teaching kids to think more long-term instead of short term can help them in many ways throughout life.


Long-Term Priorities


As we grow up, we learn to make life goals, and set priorities for ourselves to build a better life. These can be things like saving up to buy a house or a car, or working hard to get a promotion at work.


For teens, it can look like working hard in high school so that they can get into a good college. They learn to trade nights out with their friends for nights in studying, because the latter will pay off more in the long run.


But with littler kids who don't understand time as well yet, long term goals can feel like something difficult to teach.


My daughter doesn't understand that she needs to make it a priority to learn to speak German now so that she can make friends in school. Her little friends play with her and she speaks to them in English, even though they don't understand.


Speaking a different language is such a basic part of life, and yet, so difficult to grasp the importance for her.


When we have group conversations, I only understand about half of what is being said. It drives home the need for me to learn to speak the language. But River doesn't grasp the sense of urgency that I have.


While I understand the importance of learning German myself so that I can have deeper friendships with people, River hasn't quite grasped the concept yet, since she is only five.


So, this is something that I need to work to instill the importance of in her.


Kids are all about living in the moment.


River would rather run through the house all day playing with her kittens, or having me play tag with her than practice speaking German.


She doesn't understand either the short-term or long-term consequences of her actions. That's how kids are. They aren't good at cause and effect relationships yet. Or understand far-reaching consequences of what they do.


As adults, we naturally understand these things, and it can be a cause of frustration when kids don't understand.


We need to get down to their developmental level to help them understand why things are important that reach into the future.


Just like we are acclimating to a new life here in Germany, River is still acclimating herself to new life in the world. She is learning the ropes of life. The ins and outs of being human.


Sometimes we need to stop ourselves from our frustrations with our kids, meet them where they are, and explain things in ways that they can understand.


Kids live in the moment. They don't understand that there is so much future ahead of them. They don't realize that they have all the time in the world for fun and games as they are growing up. They want immediate gratification.


Delayed Gratification


As we grow up, we have to learn how to delay gratification. How to put good consequences in the future ahead of the fun that is to be had right now.

To some extent it is ok to be a hedonist. But we can't be that way all the time. Otherwise, we would spend all our time on vacation eating good food.


That's just not a realistic way of life. We have to work too. We have to think about the future. We need to save money, work jobs, and prepare the house for winter.


According to Tony Robbins,

The ability to hold out now for a better reward later is an essential life skill. Delayed gratification allows you to do things like forgo large purchases to save for a vacation, skip dessert to lose weight or take a job you don’t love but that will help your career later on.

Teaching our kids that they can't always have what they want immediately, and that there are rewards to waiting are lessons worth teaching because it will serve them well for a lifetime.


But, how do we teach kids to think about the future when they are so immersed in the moment?


In some ways, it is a good thing that kids live in the moment. We could learn mindfulness and being present from our kids. But, there is also a difference between mindfulness and instant gratification.


We need to teach our kids that the future is there, and that there are consequences of the things they do today.


Here are some tips to teach your child to delay gratification from Psychology Today:

  1. Create an Environment Where Self-Control Is Consistently Rewarded.

  2. Model Self-Control for Your Children.

  3. Teach Children to Use Distractions.

  4. Develop and Practice "If-Then" Plans.

  5. Teach Children to Set Achievable Goals.

To go back to the prior example of teaching my daughter to speak German, I have been telling her that the better she speaks German, the easier it will be for her to play with her friends. So, IF you learn to speak German, THEN you will make more friends, to follow the if-then model.


When it comes to waiting for things, Germany is good for teaching that too. All the shops close on Sunday. So, if River wants anything on Sundays she will automatically have to wait. This is something she is gradually learning to understand.


Another if then: IF you let mommy finish her work, THEN mommy will play tag with you. This also consistently rewards waiting. So, my daughter can learn to delay gratification with the understanding that she will get a reward of a favorite activity.


Kids can learn to delay gratification, but it does take a lot of practice on our part. So in essence, we are learning to delay gratification ourselves, because IF we teach our children delayed gratification, THEN we can get more of those boring, adult things done.


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