The Importance of Delayed Gratification for Children

Title: Positive Mood Effects on Delay Discounting

Authors: J. Hirsh, A. Guindon, D. Morisano, and J. Peterson

Journal: Emotion/ American Psychological Association

Year: 2010

Volume: 10, No. 5

Summary of article: It has been previously established in the literature that the ability to delay gratification is linked to a number of outcome variables, including academic performance, self-regulation. Individuals who are able to delay gratification and not pursue immediate gratification tend to do better academically and tend to be able to regulate their own emotions and behavior better which sets them up for more success in life, including reducing the chance of engaging in risky and addictive behaviors. In the literature, the term delay discounting refers to the finding that often as gratification is delayed the value of the reward decreases to the individual, meaning the longer the individual has to wait the less they think the reward is worth. Individuals with high delay discounting will more rapidly decide that a reward is not worth it the longer they have to wait. Delay discounting has been linked with the personality trait of extroversion and also with intellect. Individuals who are extroverted tend to have higher delay discounting, meaning they delay gratification less. People who are more intelligent seem to have less delay discounting, meaning that they seem better able to delay gratification and not give in to immediate gratification. This study suggests that mood is also a variable in delay discounting and tested the role of mood in this process. Researchers found that the interaction between the variable of extroversion and positive mood was significant. What this means is for extroverted individuals, mood plays a role in their pursuit of immediate gratification. This same interaction was not found for introverted individuals. Extraverted individuals who are in a good mood are even more likely to engage in delay discounting and pursue immediate gratification. In short this means that extraverted individuals in a good mood are most likely to be impulsive and pursue immediate gratification.

What does this mean for parents: The first point that it is critical for parents to understand is the importance of delayed gratification. In short, we know that the ability to delay gratification is important for success. This is a characteristic that is not paid much attention to in parenting but I think is critical. Parents should work on cultivating the ability to delay gratification in their children. I believe that this is key for the success of the child. It is important to keep in mind several points when doing this. First, it is important to realize that a child’s ability to delay gratification is linked to his developmental phase (i.e. his age). Cultivating a child’s ability to delay gratification should be done within a developmental understanding of what is appropriate. Making a two year old do things for several hours to get praise or an m&m is not developmentally appropriate. The second thing to keep in mind, as this study points out, is that personality and mood play an important role in the process of gratification delay. A child that is sick, tired, in a bad mood will not be able to delay gratification as well. Similarly, the introverted child will most likely be better than his extraverted sibling at delaying gratification. This is ok. The goal of the parent is only to help the child develop this skill to the maximum of his potential. The obvious question that will follow for parents is how do I cultivate delay gratification. I believe, the single best way to cultivate this is through sports or learning an instrument. I think that this is the reason that both these activities are linked with later success in life. The act of doing either of these activities teaches delay in gratification. A child must practice, practice, practice for success (i.e. gratification). The swimmer must endure many hours of practice before they are able to see the pay off in terms of their times improving. Putting children in activities from a very early age ensures that this skill is one they work on and cognitively internalize from very early on.

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