Following on from yesterday’s discussion, I thought that today we’d focus on teaching our children the art of delayed gratification. Why? Because if you want your children to be financially astute and learn to invest for their future, then delayed gratification is a lesson they need to be taught as early as possible. Investment is essentially a form of delayed gratification. It is about foregoing some form of immediate “happiness” in order to receive a greater reward at some point in the future. The art of delaying gratification has become ever more difficult, especially in this consumerist world we live. As a mother of three boys, I’ve learnt the hard way that the right time and place to teach your children about delayed gratification is not in the sweet aisle near the Woolworth’s checkouts!
Delayed gratification is essentially learning the ability to wait before you get something that you really want. Delaying gratification means removing the impulsive and irrational out of ones purchases. Psychological studies have proven over and over again that the emotions experienced in desiring something are MUCH stronger than the emotions felt by actually obtaining it. It’s true to say that the emotions of desire and longing, combined with imagination and fantasy, can create some of the most powerful feelings in humans. Delayed gratification is about learning to recognise those feelings of longing and desire, and to channel them into a more strategic and rational plan.
A really fascinating study on delayed gratification was performed by American psychologist, Walter Mischel in the 1960’s. He conducted a marshmallow experiment on four-year-olds in an attempt to understand delayed gratification. The kids were given a marshmallow to eat. They were told that if they could wait 20 minutes without eating the marshmallow, they could get a second marshmallow. Some children waited and others did not. Researchers then followed the children into adolescence and early adulthood. The ability to wait for that second marshmallow proved to be a strong indicator of their success and happiness through school and into early adulthood.
Why? Probably because the essential human characteristics required to practice delayed gratification include a strong will, steel determination, impulse control, rational thought, the ability to plan ahead, and a clear understanding of what it is that you want to achieve. If you think about it, we actually practice delayed gratification all through our lives – by studying for many years to achieve that degree we really want, by training hard to accomplish that first half-marathon, by holding out until you find exactly the right spouse, by starting to invest in your twenties for your retirement in over forty year’s time! These are all forms of delayed gratification, and the reality is that the better we are at delaying the gratification, the more wonderful the results are likely to be.
I believe that delayed gratification is more of an art form today than ever before. We live in an “I want it now” world and waiting is certainly not something we like doing. If you wait longer than 3 minutes in the Woolworths queue, you can phone the manager to complain. If a website takes longer than 10 seconds to open you assume there’s something wrong with your connection. If you BBM a friend, you are able to tell the exact time that she read the message and how long she took to respond. I found it fascinating that someone Tweeted Whitney Houston’s death 42 minutes before it was made official. This is the instant age. This is the “I want it now” generation.
Getting back to the sweet aisle at the Woolworths checkout which is definitely not the right place to start teaching your children about delayed gratification! Delayed gratification needs to be taught long before you reach the sweet aisle and begins with children understanding what things are actually worth. Next time you get an advertising brochure from Sportsmans Warehouse (or any other retailer), sit down with your children and go through the cost of each item. Discuss how they would feel about spending R80 on a skim ball today as opposed to saving up their pocket money for another 3 months and then being able to buy the new J-board that they really want. Discuss comparative prices with them. For example, a pair of Reef slip-slops is almost the same price as a new J-Board. How is that possible? And how would they feel about wearing a pair of “no-name-brand” slip-slops but being able to use the extra money saved for a family weekend away.
The powerful thing about delayed gratification is that once children experience it first-hand by putting it into practice, they realise just how great it feels to work towards something that they really want. If you can instill these lessons in your children while they are still young, there is overwhelming psychological evidence to show that your child will be more financially astute and more investment savvy as an adult. Let’s work towards changing our kids’ behaviour from “I want it now” to “I’m planning for something better”.
Have a blessed day!