by Rohini Batra
Recently a parent asked me about teaching children `Delayed Gratification’ and when does a child really develop this ability to wait to obtain something that they want. I thought that was such an important question!
In today’s world, parents are so focused on academic grades, extracurricular activities and so much more, that we all are forgetting that life’s success depends less on the college your child lands into and more on whether they have it in them to work hard and persevere during tough times.
Our cultural norms are also encouraging us to seek Band-Aid solutions and temporary comforts - basically, whatever it takes to ease our discomfort now. We often make our life choices according to how we can avoid pain or obtain pleasure in the moment and, in doing so, fail to see that the path of delayed gratification is sometimes where the real solutions to our problems lie.
At the preschool level, it can be compared to a hungry child insisting on having a cookie just before dinner. Parents who often cave in for a child’s request, may not be teaching their child one of the most important skills of their life-time, delayed gratification.
Choosing to have something now might feel good, but making the effort to have discipline and managing your impulses can result in bigger or better rewards in the future. For instance, eating a cookie before dinner may satisfy your child’s hunger but may leave them full yet cranky. And in the long run if that keeps happening over and over again, it may not be good for the child’s health.
Similarly, children who learn to control their impulses and delay satisfaction, thrive more in long term goals like their careers, relationships, health and finances. Look back and think if delayed gratification helped you in the long run. I am pretty sure it did always help to study than watch a movie, the day before the test.
You may have heard of the famous Stanford marshmallow experiment by psychologist Walter Mischel on `Delayed Gratification’. In this study, a child was offered a choice between one immediate reward, or two rewards if they waited for a period of time.
During this time, the researcher left the room for about 15 minutes and then returned. The rewards were either marshmallows or pretzel-sticks, depending on the child's preference. In follow-up studies, the researchers found that children who were able to wait longer for the preferred rewards tended to have better life outcomes, as measured by their educational attainment and other life measures.
Now that we know delayed gratification is key for a child’s social emotional development, you may wonder how do we teach this both in the classroom and home setting.
In a Montessori classroom setting, we always have only have one set of material for a particular lesson. If one child is using it, another child has to wait for it until the work is put back on the shelf.
Similarly, when a child is interested in having snacks in the classroom, they do not just go and help themselves. They follow guidelines of first wearing a snack necklace, then waiting for the table to be available for them. These simple grace and courtesy lessons are big building blocks for delayed gratification.
To emulate this behavior in home settings, you need to create an environment where the child knows the routines and understands that everyone needs to follow the routine. If your child is still having a hard time to leave his Lego and come to the dinner table, try giving him extra Lego time after dinner or even better try enticing him with special daddy or mommy time after dinner is over. And as always, the choices you offer should always be what you can follow through.
The education of a small child therefore should not just aim at preparing them for academic success, but for life! So, when you are overwhelmed with the responsibilities of life and parenthood, take comfort in knowing that the Montessori education, you choose for your child is doing just that for you!
Rohini Batra is a Lead Teacher in an MCH Early Childhood classroom. You can reach her here.