Strategies to Teach Children Delayed Gratification

Part 2: 5 ways parents can teach kids self-control.

Posted Jan 07, 2020

Parents, teachers, coaches, and other caring adults can be instrumental in teaching children self-control. Here are five additional suggestions to accomplish this worthy goal. You can read the first five here.

Caleb Oquendo/Pexels/License CC0
Source: Caleb Oquendo/Pexels/License CC0

6. Help children create a plan.

When it comes to setting goals, I like Glasser's Reality Therapy approach. It's very logical. You don’t have to be a therapist to use it. It works by asking a series of questions:

1. “What is it that you want?”

  • Help your child be very specific.

2. “What is it that you are doing right now to get what you want?”

  • After listening nonjudgmentally, identify and list the behaviors that are not working or not helping your child get what he/she wants.

3. “Is what you are doing helping? Working?”

  • The answer to this question is almost always NO.
  • Children tend to do more of the same even though it's not working.
  • They frequently fail to see the connection between what they want and what they are doing and that it is not working.

4. “What’s your new plan to get what you want?”

  • Let children come up with a plan on their own, but if they can’t, give them a plan that will work.

5. Don’t accept excuses.

  • Children stay stuck in unworkable behaviors when they offer excuses. Don’t buy them.

6. Don't interfere with reasonable consequences.

  • Reasonable consequences help children connect the dots; behavior = consequences.

7. Make a commitment to the plan.

  • Make a commitment to the plan by asking the following questions:
    • “What exactly are you going to do?” 
    • “Do you need anything to be successful with your plan?”
    • “When exactly are you going to start your plan?”
  • “What exactly are you going to do?” 
  • “Do you need anything to be successful with your plan?”
  • “When exactly are you going to start your plan?”

According to Naomi Glasser, a good plan is:

  • Simple
  • Small
  • Something to do, not stop doing
  • Dependent on what your child does, not what others do
  • Specific
  • Repetitive
  • Immediate

8. Never give up and don't get discouraged.

7. Prioritize. Teach children to tackle the most important things first.

An important skill that all children can learn is to prioritize. How often do we make lists of things we need to do and then do the things that are fun or that are easy first and put off the hardest, most difficult things? We may not even get to the most important things on the list at all! So, help your children make their own to-do lists and take it one step further by prioritizing the list from the most important to the least important. Teach them to tackle the most important things first. 

8. Celebrate when a goal is reached.

I believe it is important to celebrate when your children attain a goal! Acknowledging success is important, but don’t overdo it. Here are a few suggestions:

  • Give them a high five
  • Flash them two thumbs up
  • Let them pick a fun activity to do
  • Give them a sticker

The important thing is that you acknowledge their success.

9. Teach children to save money.

if you want your child to become a saver and at the same time learn to be generous and give to others, consider using the Share, Save, Spend formula developed by Nathan Dungan, author of Prodigal Sons and Material Girls: How Not to Be Your Child’s ATM. He suggests parents decide a set percentage of every dollar a child earns, receives in gifts, or is given in allowance to be given to charity, saved, and spent. Get three containers. Mark one as "Share," one as "Save," and one as "Spend." Watch the amounts in each grow.

Are you teaching your child how to manage money? Try the following: Make a list of what you expect your child's allowance is for. Attach estimated prices and then discuss it with your child. Monitor the process and readjust, discussing money management lessons as they are learned.

A recent survey found that almost twice as many children considered themselves to be “spenders” (35 percent) compared to their parents (20 percent). Further, 41 percent of children weren't knowledgeable about managing personal finances, 50 percent didn’t understand credit, and 61 percent didn’t understand student loan debt. Please talk to your children about money!

10. Teach positive self-talk.

Believe in the power of “self-talk”. It really does make a difference! If you don’t believe me just try this short demonstration with your child. 

  1. Have your child hold his arm straight out in front of him. Tell him that you are going to try to push it down to his side. Tell him to resist you and try to prevent you from pushing his arm down to his side. If he is like most children, he does a pretty good job of resisting you.
  2. Next, have him repeat the following phrase out loud 10 times: “I am a weak and worthless person.” Tick them off on your fingers as he says the phrase out loud.
  3. Repeat #1 above. You will be able to easily push his arm down to his side.
  4. I don’t believe in leaving someone weak or worthless, so next have him repeat the following phrase out loud 10 times: “I am a strong and worthy person!” Tick them off on your fingers as he says the phrase out loud.
  5. Repeat #1 above. You will have a difficult time pushing his arm down to his side, and with some children, you may not be able to.

This demonstration shows the power of self-talk, both positive and negative. We can teach our children to use positive self-talk to resist temptation and delay gratification. I first learned about affirmations from Jean Illsley Clarke in her book titled Growing Up Again: Parenting Ourselves, Parenting Our Children.

You can teach them to use self-talk affirmation messages like these from Belinda Anderson:

  •  I am capable
  •  It’s OK to be patient
  •  It’s OK to wait until I have saved the money to buy it
  •  I choose to get my work done before I play
  •  I choose to think thoughts that serve me well
  •  I am confident
  •  I love challenges and what I learn from overcoming them
  •  Challenges make me stronger
  •  I choose to be patient and not buy it right now

Support yourself by saying the following affirmations out loud 10 times. Right now!

  •  I am a capable parent!
  •  I am a confident parent!
  •  I am a patient parent!
  •  I am a lovable parent!
  •  I will raise my children to be patient postponers.

Related Blog Posts:

Strategies To Teach Children Delayed Gratification - Part 1

Is Your Child an Instant Gratifier or a Patient Postponer?

Delayed Gratification in an Age of Overindulgence

Do all things with Love, Grace, and Gratitude

© 2020 David J. Bredehoft


Clarke, J. I., & Dawson, C. (1998). Growing up again: Parenting ourselves, parenting our children. Center City, MN: Hazelden.