Modeling impulse control for our children

I Want It...And I Want It Now!

by Kimberly Danger

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Today's society of "I want, I want, I want!" combined with easy access to credit makes instant gratification easier than ever. Anyone with a credit card can shop all they want and worry about paying the bill later.

Reckless spending without thought of future implications is the definition of financial immaturity. Lack of impulse control is normal in babies, common in young children, but destructive in adults. For those who never learned impulse control as a child, this mentality can lead to self-destructive spending and even debt.

Those that learn to delay gratification not only are better off financially, but also they are more successful in life. Research shows that those with greater self-control are more confident in social situations, go farther in achieving their goals, and cope better with frustration and stress.

A widely publicized study involving a group of 4-year-olds and marshmallows illustrates the impact of delay of gratification on future success. The study, conducted at Stanford University by psychologist Walter Mischel, was important in illustrating the connection between impulse control and lifelong success. Here's how it worked: Mischel offered a group of 4-year-olds one marshmallow. They were told that if they waited for him to return from his errand (approximately 15-20 minutes) before eating it, they could have two marshmallows instead of one. The study concluded that the 4-year-olds that demonstrated impulse control were more likely later on in life to achieve greater academic and social success.

The good news is that like most skills, impulse control can be learned. As parents, it is up to us to teach delay of gratification to our children.

Patience Is a Virtue

Requiring children to wait for things that they want comes in many forms. It can mean waiting until after dinner to have the cookie; waiting until after their homework is done to watch TV or waiting until Christmas to get that special new toy.

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Parents may want to give their children what they never had and often times are financially able to do so, but are doing them a great disservice. Things don't work that way in the real world. Kids who learn the value of money by working for what they want are better equipped to deal with reality once they leave the nest.

Finding Enjoyment in the Process

The kids in Mischel's experiment who were able to successfully delay gratification found ways of distracting themselves while they waited. Focusing on the value in the process itself, rather than the reward, is something we can help our kids with. If it is our goal that our kids learn to play the piano, help them enjoy practicing by giving them music they enjoy.

Kimberly Danger is the publisher of, a website for moms interested in saving time and money. For seven years, Mommysavers has been helping people live well for less. Kimberly is the author of 1000 Best Baby Bargains. She lives in Southern Minnesota with her husband and two kids.

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