In Christian Kids and Delayed Gratification, we talked about the importance of Christian kids mastering the skill of delayed gratification. For them to successfully navigate the Christian life, they must be willing to give up much of what the world (and Satan) wants them to take now, in exchange for God’s Promises for the future.
Delayed gratification is not as easy to understand or master as one would think. In fact, you can repeat the original experiment with your own very young children (or yourself!) and find out how difficult it is. Try delaying eating your favorite treat the next time you have a serious craving for it. How hard is it to make yourself wait another decade, year, month, week, day or even hour before giving in to your desire to have it now?
The good news is there are lots of fun ways to help your kids understand and begin practicing delaying gratification. Here are a few of my favorites:
- Repeating the Original Experiment – Is there a treat your children absolutely love, but rarely get? Purchase some and put a tiny portion in front of each child (it may mean a different treat for each child – the experiment won’t work it the child is ambivalent about the item). Tell them you are going to complete a chore or phone call (or whatever). If they can resist eating the treat until your return, you will give them more. If they eat what you have given them before you return, that’s all they will get. The original experiment was for children about 5 years old and the waiting time was fifteen minutes. For older children, you will need to make the wait times much longer for the pressure to build to the same point. (Note: For some kids money may work better than food.) Don’t “punish” kids who can’t wait. Discuss what happened. How hard was it? If they were able to wait, what helped them remember to wait? What did they learn from the experiment that will help them in other situations when it is best to delay gratification?
- Baking – This needs to be a recipe for your child’s favorite treat. Preferably even one they have on a somewhat regular basis. The next time you run out of it, don’t replace it. When your child starts asking for it, explain they can have some, but they will have to help you cook it first. Then have them help you with the entire process from making the shopping list and buying the ingredients to mixing the recipe to watching it bake. As you are enjoying the final product, talk about how sometimes God asks us to wait for the things we want. Discuss times in your life when God has made you prepare and work before He gave you something you wanted. Share with your kids the important lessons and skills you learned while you were “waiting” to get what you wanted.
- Pickling – Do your kids like pickles? They are relatively easy to make and take several days to finish, making a great lesson in delayed gratification. Try to find a recipe that involves doing something to the pickles every day for several days so the kids have something to do that also reminds them of the ultimate reward. (I haven’t tried this recipe for pickles, but Alton Brown usually has good ones. I would imagine this one would turn out well, but note his caution about food safety.) As the days pass, discuss how sometimes it may seem like God is asking us to do the same things over and over while it doesn’t seem we are getting any closer to what we wanted. Share times in your life when you later realized there was an important reason God kept you repeatedly working while waiting.
- Gardening – What fruit or vegetable do your kids absolutely love? Tell them the next time they can have it in your house is when they have grown it themselves. Get them to help you buy the seeds and start the plants. Have them help you plant, water and weed. Let them keep watch until the flowers form and the desired product begins to appear. Encourage them to wait until the final product is ripe before picking and enjoying it. Throughout the process, discuss the idea of God’s perfect timing. Ask them if you would have gotten the desired produce if they pulled up the plant early or picked the flowers before they had time to form the fruit or vegetable. What if they had tried to rush God’s perfect timing for the formation of the ultimate product in some way? Share times in your life when you tried to rush God or when you waited for God’s perfect timing even though it was much slower than you would have preferred. What happened? How did you learn God’s timing is always perfect?
- Earning and Saving Money – Let’s face it. Many adults still struggle with this aspect of delayed gratification. The next time your child wants something fun outside of normal present giving holidays, tell them your new policy is that they have to earn and/or save the money to purchase the item. Only when they have enough funds will they receive the item. You will be surprised at how hard working and careful your kids can be when they want something badly enough. Not only will it teach them the beginnings of godly money principles, but it also teaches them to delay gratification. While they are working and saving keep them encouraged by sharing stories from your own life. Talk about how you earned the money for your first car or house. Talk about the idea of credit as a way to avoid delaying gratification and all of the problems debt and wanting things that badly can cause.
- Samson – If there were ever a poster child for someone who had issues with delaying gratification, it was Samson. Share with your kids all of the stories from the life of Samson. What consequences did he suffer because he refused to listen to what God wanted for his life and decided instead to pursue gratifying his every desire as quickly as possible? What do your older kids and teens see in life today that reminds them of Samson? How can they avoid living life like Samson did – pursuing instant gratification of their every desire?
Take some time and have fun with your kids helping them understand and practice delayed gratification. It will help them avoid temptation and sin. It will remind them to wait for God’s perfect timing. It will encourage them to focus on Heaven instead of fulfilling every desire they have immediately and possibly losing everything in the process. It will be time well spent.