Parents: Teach Your Children to Delay Gratification (Science May Be on Your Side)

One of the many things I love about Wisconsin is the wealth of programming on Wisconsin Public Radio. One of the programs I get to hear sometimes is Zorba Paster on Your Health. It’s a talk show with fun, friendly, and highly credible health information from an entertaining expert. During Saturday’s show, Dr. Paster talked about a recent long-term study showing that children who couldn’t delay gratification were much more likely to be obese when older. He talked about the obesity epidemic among American children and suggested that parents could help by training kids to not expect instant gratification. He said this is one of the most important duties parents have. I agree, for basic self-control is so important for success later in life. Sadly, too many parents neglect this and let kids think that they should get whatever they want – and NOW. Big mistake.

I think the studies Dr. Paster referred to are from the April edition of the Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine, where there are two very interesting articles:

  • “Self-regulation and Rapid Weight Gain in Children From Age 3 to 12 Years” by
    Lori A. Francis and Elizabeth J. Susman, Arch. of Pediatrics and Adolescent Med. 2009; 163(4):297-302. (See the Abstract.)
  • “Ability to Delay Gratification at Age 4 Years and Risk of Overweight at Age 11 Years” by Desiree M. Seeyave, Sharon Coleman, Danielle Appugliese, Robert F. Corwyn, Robert H. Bradley, Natalie S. Davidson, Niko Kaciroti, and Julie C. Lumeng, Arch. of Pediatrics and Adolescent Med. 2009; 163(4):303-308. (See the Abstract.)

Food for thought!

Self-control and the ability to delay gratification may have an impact on physical health but perhaps more importantly on spiritual well-being. Following Christ absolutely requires this if we are to more fully love others and God rather than merely serving ourselves. Self-control is also important if we are to follow the Lord’s inspired principles of sexual morality and prepare ourselves for successful marriage. Even relatively simple things like paying tithing require the ability to delay gratification and put longer-term objectives ahead of immediate pleasures. I agree that teaching this ability is one of the most important things that parents can do – and yes, they can! Kids might later choose to reject the training, but they can be taught.


Author: Jeff Lindsay

9 thoughts on “Parents: Teach Your Children to Delay Gratification (Science May Be on Your Side)

  1. Kids need to learn what “No” means, that they can’t get whatever they ask for, whether it be a toy or a treat.

    Also, sometimes the best answer is not now but you can have a popsicle after dinner. At 3 years old my son my cry, whine, pout and even have a tantrum but not giving in and helping him to channel his emotions when disappointed will help in as he grows and finds real disapointment in life.

  2. yeah, I didn’t read/see this exact story (and I didn’t click on any links from your post, Jeff, so I don’t know if this is answered), but from what I had heard, yes, there is a clear correlation between whether children can delay gratification at an early age and if they can avoid obesity later on…but the nagging question remained exactly as Anonymous at 8:59AM asked: “How does one teach children how to delay gratification?”

    From the link I had read, it seemed like, “If you have a child who has this personality trait, congrats. If not, sorry.”

  3. We all know that kids have their own personality and will make their own decisions, sooner or later. But just as you can teach and train children to read well and enjoy reading, you can also teach kids to understand that they must wait for some things. You begin by teaching the concept of “no” or “not yet,” then teaching rules and consequences, and then encouraging discipline and self-control throughout your years with them. You can’t guarantee anything, but you must not relinquish the responsibility to teach, train, and set the example.

    Positive character and personality traits can be nurtured or enhanced. Parents must never assume that their role is minor and leave everything to chance, to genetics, or to daycare.

  4. I dunno…I don’t think you teach kids to enjoy reading. Teaching them to read well is one thing…teaching them to enjoy it is another.

  5. As a child I was taught to enjoy reading. I was praised for the ability to read before I entered kindergarten. My father had everything to do with that. I had memorized poetry from Childcraft books. I still recall my first poem: “if all the world were apple pie, and all the seas were ink, and all the trees were bread and cheese, what would we have to drink?”
    My cousins all knew that my father spent time training me to read. They would approach me to read something and I did my best to oblige. I got a reputation that extended beyond my immediate circle of acquaintances. Strangers would walk down my street and stop me, and ask me to spell big words like ‘encyclopedia’. I was motivated to continue my pursuit of reading because of the praise it got me. He brought me a book, “The sword in the stone”, and let me stay up at night to read it, rather than being tucked in early for bed. He told me his favorite book as a kid was “The Wind in the Willows” and so I read it through.
    My dad wittingly or not taught me to love reading. I did this because my dad got involved with me. He never scolded me into it, he made me feel great about being able to read.
    Perhaps he stumbled on his technique by accident, or was just a lucky parent. I don’t know how or why he did it, I just know he did.
    You can teach your children anything if you put your creative thinking cap on.

  6. eh, whatever. I withdraw my claim, since it would really take more time to explain, and people aren’t really getting it…

    Regardless, if you have a child who is a star reader, great at reading, does it a lot, but simply doesn’t enjoy it, I’d hate to see a parent try to rack themselves up about it. It’s not your fault. Some people just don’t like reading.

  7. I love the post and agree wholeheartedly. God’s plan of happiness has much of this built in. You’ve already mentioned tithing. Consider also the law of the fast and the law of chastity. Perhaps delaying gratification has eternal consequences.

  8. Anon @ 8:59, I was thinking the same thing while I read the post, until my toddler son walked in and I asked him if he needed to use the toilet. That reminded me that he has a little sticker chart, where if he uses the toilet without any “accidents” between visits, then he will get a sticker to put on his chart. Once he gets all 100 squares filled (a LOT for a toddler!) then I will buy him a little toy wagon that he’s had his eye on at the store. *sigh* Only two more to potty-train after this one.

    Mike, I was an early reader like you, only my mother thought it was cute that I read The Amityville Horror while in the first grade. I still remember some parts of the nightmares I used to have. I guess you could say through that experience, I learned to seek out better books. 🙂

    I think delayed gratification goes way beyond an obesity issue. This world we live in seems to put out the message to “Eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we die.” Another message is, “Interest-free for the first year…then go bankrupt.” The gospel of Jesus Christ teaches me that I can overcome my body and let my spirit guide me, as it is attuned to the Holy Spirit. Self-discipline isn’t a negative thing; look at the root word: disciple. Through self-discipline – “self” because of our agency or ability to choose or act upon truths – we learn. We gain intelligence that ultimately brings us closer to our Savior…and more like him. How cool is that? Reading Doctrine and Covenants 93 about how we worship the Lord (by emulating him), I would suggest, like Billow did above, that it absolutely has eternal consequences.

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