It seems we live in a world where everything has to happen right now, as though if it doesn’t, there will be trouble ahead. We are constantly bombarded with “right now” options and rarely hear of the virtues of waiting for anything. From instant finance to fast food, we are taught by default that waiting is undesirable or even unbearable.
Many of our kids are growing up with the mentality that there is something inherently painful or wrong with waiting. The media and society in general keeps telling them so. Yet waiting can be one of the best character-building tools available, encouraging patience, wise money management, and industriousness. Delayed gratification leads to a deeper appreciation of the thing that they worked hard and waited for, as well as practical lessons on the value of money and a good work ethic.
So what are some ways that you can encourage your kids to wait for the things they want?
1. Be a model of delayed gratification
When your kids see you waiting for something you want, they will begin to better understand the principle. They will see that you are not just out to spoil their fun, and that waiting has a purpose. Try putting your phone away if you are tempted to spend too much time on it, and instead spend the time with the kids or doing something else that is useful. Explain that you are waiting till the right time or place to use it again, and liken it to the times you make them wait for something they want. Or you might explain to them that, although there is an item you want, you must wait until you have saved enough money for it.
2. Expect good behaviour
Avoid giving in to demanding or impatient behaviour. Let your kids know that they will get the things they are asking for (food, for example) much sooner if they ask politely and wait.
3. Pay first and play later
Teach your kids that the fun things they want to do come after they have taken care of their responsibilities, such as chores finished, homework completed or pets fed. Help them to see playtime as a reward for doing their jobs, and remind them that once the jobs are done, they can relax and enjoy their playtime without having to worry about finishing their duties later.
4. Finish what you start
Yes, you can allow your kids to leave their music practice and get a drink of water, but make sure that the drink of water doesn’t turn into lounging on the sofa to watch whatever happens to be on TV. Make sure they finish what they began before they do anything else. Insisting that they complete a task will help them develop valuable skills for their future workplaces and home lives.
5. Help your kids develop strategies for waiting
Waiting is hard sometimes. When your kids feel that they just can’t wait another moment, help them to develop strategies to be able to manage the waiting time. You might be able to come up with distractions to help them focus on something else while they wait, or you could play games that help pass the time. For young children who might be waiting to watch a favorite show on TV, this could involve pretending to be one of the characters in the show or playing a game of “let’s find all the red things or square shapes in your room while we wait.” In the case of older kids facing a long-term wait, being able to place a sticker on a chart or tick off a date on the calendar can help keep them focused and positive.
Waiting is a valuable life skill
Practicing delayed gratification teaches lessons that will last a lifetime. It will also have a positive impact on financial management, romantic relationships and the home lives your kids will have in the future. It might seem like a lot of hard work now, but it will pay off bountifully when your kids grow to be adults who are able to wait for what they want.