Social and emotional learning includes promoting the important skill of delayed gratification. This became a blatant reality during this pandemic. So many activities were put on hold.  As a result, some managed this well and others put themselves and others in danger. They weren’t able to delay their usual stimulation needs. Teaching children to delay gratification in early childhood years prepares them to manage their needs and actions. Teaching/parenting young children is the opportune time to engage children in activities that delay their needs in order to serve others.

The Marshmallow Experiment

There is a wonderful study completed over 50 years ago at Stanford University called the Marshmallow Experiment. Children ages 4-5 needed to sit and wait until they were told to eat their marshmallow.  The adults left the room.  Three different responses occurred.  It’s results were to identify children’s ability to have self-control and delay gratification. The children were followed for over 20 years.  The results show that delaying gratification is an important skill leading to success.

Some years later two groups of children experienced the same test.  However, one group received a positive outcome waiting for the reward. The 2nd group had a negative experience.  This changed the results indicating that there are ways to help children learn to have self-control and delay gratification.  Here is a link to both studies

What Is Delayed Gratification and How Is It Taught

Delayed gratification and impulse control is learning to meet someone else’s needs before your own.  Hence, this is a valuable relational skill also.  Undoubtedly when children are in service or helping, adults must allow for mistakes.  Providing an emotionally safe environment is essential. Importantly, positive reinforcement is the key.   With young children the tasks are simple.  Provide simple household jobs with a reward, such as, stickers.  For instance,  a special time with a parent time at the end of the week is always a winner.  Encourage service and helping each and every day.  With the right positive reinforcement, this is the best esteem builder of all time.

Some Suggestions Including The Verbal Language Needed

The positive reinforcement is critical and needs to be ongoing.  Please offer the positive reinforcement in sentences that include the assistance they provided.  For ex. “Great job helping your little brother pick up his blocks.”  Have a service project for the family with a planned reward when completed.  Without a doubt, service and helping builds self-worth but only with positive reinforcement.  Also, have conversations about about how they feel when they are helping.  Do they feel helpful, kind, generous, loving, caring, lovable or friendly.  The building of self-worth happens when the action is connected to a positive feeling.  Then encourage them to affirm their feeling with a positive “I” message, such as, “I am Kind.”  This internalizes it as part of who they are!

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