Is Your Child an Instant Gratifier or a Patient Postponer?

Delaying immediate gratification is the most important skill a child can have.

Posted Nov 25, 2019

Pexels/License CC0
Source: Pexels/License CC0

Think about it. Be honest. Is your child an Instant Gratifier or a Patient Postponer?

So what? Does it really matter? As a parent, teacher, coach, and mentor do your actions and interactions make a difference? Can we teach children self-control and shape them into Patient Postponers rather than Instant Gratifiers?

The renowned psychologist Walter Mischel, who conducted the famous “Marshmallow Experiment” believed we could teach children self-control.

“This skill set [the ability to delay immediate gratification] is visible and measurable early in life and has profound long-term consequences for people’s welfare and mental and physical health over the life span.” 

Why do some children grow up as Patient Postponers, able to resist temptation and delay gratification, and other children do not (Instant Gratifiers)? What does this have to do with childhood overindulgence? To test this, we asked 466 participants to answer 128 questions consisting of demographic data and seven psychological scales. My fellow researcher Mary Slinger and I established that delayed gratification is linked to childhood overindulgence.

Our Research Found That Childhood Overindulgence Leads to:

  • The inability to delay gratification
  • An increase in materialistic values
  • Being ungrateful
  • Being unhappy

Conversely, if individuals are not overindulged as children, they are more likely to delay gratification, to not be materialistic, to feel grateful, and to be happy.  More specifically, we found significant differences in the ability to delay gratification between those that were overindulged as children, and those that were not.

Participants who were not overindulged as children were more likely to be Patient Postponers rather than Instant Gratifiers.

What Are Patient Postponers Like?

  • Patient Postponers are very task-oriented.
  • They plan ahead and complete their work before they allow themselves to have fun.
  • They are never impulsive shoppers.
  • They almost always save for things they want rather than buy them on credit and pay for them later.
  • Patient Postponers rarely get frustrated or angry when they have to wait for things or when others interfere with their plans.

What Are Instant Gratifiers Like?

  • Instant Gratifiers are not task-oriented.
  • They rarely plan ahead and routinely procrastinate. They put off the things they should do for the things that they really like doing.
  • They are impulsive shoppers. They want things now.
  • They never save for things they want; instead, they buy them on credit and pay for them later.
  • Instant Gratifiers routinely get frustrated and angry when they have to wait for things or when things do not go their way.

Tips For Teaching Children To Delay Gratification

1. Model patience and delaying gratification.

2. Teach your children to set goals and develop plans to work toward their goals.

3. Reward delayed gratification and self-control.

4. Play games that emphasize delayed gratification and self-control (e.g., Red Light, Green Light).

5. Resist the urge to overindulge (giving children too much, over-nurturing them, and/or not having rules and chores).

Related Articles:

Delayed Gratification in an Age of Instant Gratification

Strategies to Teach Children Delayed Gratification - Part 1

Strategies to Teach Children Delayed Gratification - Part 2

Do all things with Love, Grace, and Gratitude.

© 2019 David J. Bredehoft


Slinger, M., and Bredehoft, D. J. (2010). Relationships between childhood overindulgence and adult attitudes and behavior. Poster presented at the 2010 National Council on Family Relations Annual Conference, November 5, 2010, Hilton Hotel, Minneapolis, MN.

Mischel, W. (2014). The marshmallow test: Why self-control is the engine of success. NY: Little, Brown and Company.