In today’s world of multiple televisions, video games, on computers, I often talk with parents about how to deal with the consequences of overuse of technologies. One of the most common questions I am asked is “How do I deal with the problem of instant gratification, I want my kids to be more patient!” I respond to this question with the tongue in cheek response of “There is no quick fix; you have to be patient.” We often laugh about it as we discuss it, but it is a very true statement.
Delaying gratification, and the patience required to do so, is a skill that requires effort to attain, and once it has been developed, it must be maintained in order to stay effective. The specific actions you can take to build this skill are simple; however they require effort and continual practice in order to keep them up. Here are some basic steps you can take:
1. Role model delaying gratification. Demonstrate to your kids both that you value delaying gratification, and that you practice it yourself.
a. When you notice you want a second piece of desert, say out loud that you want it and then don’t take it.
b. Take your kids grocery shopping, with a list that you stick to.
c. Focus on enjoying time when you are trapped in a line, like when you are stuck in traffic or in line at the grocery store. Find ways to make it fun for you and your family, play car games, enjoy taking time, talk to each other.
2. Read chapter books together and read ONLY one chapter at a time, no matter how exciting the beginning of the next chapter will be.
3. Garden. Plan vegetables and fruits that you and your children enjoy and will like even better fresh. Watch them grow, and watch them go from unripe to ripe. Enjoy how fabulous the fruits and veggies are straight from the plant. Throughout this process, discuss the patience required to get good food.
4. Praise waiting. Note when your children do it and note when tell them you like it.
5. Encourage hobbies that require frequent practice for improvement, such as musical instruments or athletics. Discuss the need to practice before you get good, and don’t let them quit just because it gets hard.
One other useful last tip is that makes it easier to practice patience is to limit screen time. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends no more than 2 hours of screens for kids per day. This includes televisions, computers, video games, and yes, even some phones.
Learning to delay gratification can be a lot of fun if you let it. Good luck, and enjoy the process!