Teaching children to delay gratification and have impulse control is an important EQ skill often puzzling to parents.  When I parented, I certainly had no idea how to do this.  A wonderful study completed over 50 years ago at Stanford University called the Marshmallow Experiment identified children’s ability to have self-control and delay gratification.  Children followed for over 20 years indicate that delaying gratification and impulse control is an important skill leading to success. Those who did not, suffered not reaching their greatest potential.

Some years later, children separated into only two groups were given a similar test. However, one group influenced by a positive outcome with waiting for the reward. The second group influenced by a negative experience changed the results. The outcome indicated that there are ways to help children succeed by learning how to delay gratification and have self-control.  Here is a link to both studies https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stanford_marshmallow_experiment.

What Are The Benefits Of  Delayed Gratification and Impulse Control

Undoubtedly delaying gratification and impulse control have many positive outcomes.  First, this is a valuable relational skill, for instance, meeting someone else’s needs before your own provides significant caring and gratitude.  Second, controlling one’s impulses allows for better focus and concentration not to mention emotional integration of one’s actions.  Thirdly, service in the form of helping develops feelings of kindness, smart, responsible to name a few especially when expressed and noticed.  Service or helping with positive reinforcement and allowing for mistakes in an emotionally safe environment is the key. Teaching these skills requires a conscious effort by parents and educators to provide specific activities creating learning and practice.

How Do We Teach Delayed Gratification and Impulse Control To Children

Start teaching these skills as soon as children are developmentally able to practice them.  However, do not delay because it is easier for you to pick up the toys, etc.  There are chores shown in the chart below by developmental age.  Encourage as much helping as possible and always with positive feedback.  Seems too easy but this is how we learn to delay gratification and impulse control.  Stop, focus, and provide assistance if needed.

With young children the tasks are simple.  They can have jobs and the reward can be stickers with a special parent time at the end of the week.  Older siblings may help younger siblings with positive reinforcement.  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.”  Plan a service project for the family with a planned reward when it is completed.  Service and helping builds self-worth. Please talk 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 connects to a positive feeling.  Then encourage them to say, “I am Kind.”  This reinforces and internalizes the feeling as part of who they are!  Feelings push action.  

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