Our 6 year old is different. She is cautious, introspective and loves to read (she’s working on a 400 page book right now). I like the way she thinks. I’ll call her C in this post.
On Christmas, we met up with relatives to open presents. When the children first spied the gifts under the tree, they went wild. They quickly gathered the ones with their names on them and sat waiting eagerly for us to give them the go-ahead to proceed. It was at this point that C said something that I’ll never forget:
I want to wait to open my presents and when I do start, I want to open them slowly so that I can enjoy it longer.
Grandma overheard C and almost fell out of her chair. She said, “C, that is called delay of gratification and thoughts like that will take you far in life.” I couldn’t agree more.
The thought that immediately came to mind was the famous Stanford marshmallow experiment. In this experiment, children were offered a reward now or a bigger reward if they waited. One marshmallow now or two in 15 minutes. Children who chose to wait for the bigger reward were proven to be more successful in life.
Experiment Day 1
I explained the Stanford marshmallows to C and proposed that we do an experiment on her 4 year old sister, D. We had a box of chocolate covered pretzels that we had received as a gift. The pretzels would stand in for the marshmallows. C eagerly agreed that we should experiment on kid sister. Here is how it went down:
- Me: D, I have an offer for you.
- D: OK dad.
- Me: You have a choice. You can either have one chocolate covered pretzel now or…
***D interrupted me at this point***
- D: Yes, I WANT ONE NOW!!
- Me: Let me finish. You can either have one now or if you wait until after lunch, you may have two.
- D: I want one now. Now!
I made the same offer to big sister C who chose to wait until after lunch. D got her pretzel now and C would wait for two.
The girls ate lunch and I gave C her two pretzels. D immediately had a meltdown; screaming that she wanted another pretzel. We explained to her that we had offered her a choice and she chose to have one pretzel before lunch instead of two after. Would the lesson sink in?
Experiment Day 2
The next day, I was eager to repeat the experiment to see if D could overcome her impulsiveness and hold out for the greater reward. I didn’t think she’d learn the lesson. She is very different from her sister and also, 2 years younger.
However, she proved me wrong. I made the same offer and was pleasantly surprised when she chose the bigger reward after lunch. Put a check in the delayed gratification win column!
There are many things that I’d like to teach my children and delay of gratification is near the top of the list. Delaying gratification is a very powerful trait. If you can convince a 22 year old college graduate to save money like mad, they’re going to do very well later in life.
How do you instill these values though? It may be easy to teach a child to wait 20 minutes for a bigger treat. How do you teach them to wait 20 years for an even bigger treat? Not easy, but here is what I’ll do:
- I’ll lead my example: If we’re on the road and girls howl that they’re hungry for fast food, I’ll tell them that a better meal is waiting for them at home.
- I’ll encourage them to save: When they get birthday money, I’ll encourage them to save it: “You can buy something small now or something bigger later if you save it.”
- I’ll show them the numbers: Just this weekend, I showed C the interest she was getting on the 25$ she has in her Internet bank account. Her eyes lit up when she saw the bank was giving her $.02/month just for letting them keep her money.
Hopefully, all of these small lessons add up and lead to a life of saving and holding out for the really good stuff. Even if it has to start with a chocolate covered pretzel (or two).
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