In a world where everything seems instant, it can be hard to teach your children the benefits of delayed gratification. Here are our top tips:

Teach Kids About Feelings

When kids develop an understanding of the difference between feelings and
behaviors, it can help them control their impulses. A child who understands that it is
okay to feel mad but not okay to hit, can see that he has choices about how to deal
with his feelings without reacting impulsively.
Attend to feelings. When kids are able to verbalize their frustrations, anger or
disappointment over, say, not getting something right now, they can release the
emotional pressure that builds with impatience in a healthy way. Help yours learn
that it’s not okay to hit or throw toys out of displeasure, but it is okay to express
frustration verbally. Help your kids with this strategy by suggesting words they can
use to describe their feelings—like angry, frustrated, mad, happy, nervous, calm.
Siegel & Bryson (2011). The Whole Brain Child
Siegel (2014). Brainstorm: The Powerful Purpose of the Teenage Brain

Teach Listening Skills

Sometimes kids behave impulsively because they don’t listen to the directions.
Before you’ve finished your sentence, they are up and moving without really hearing
what you said..
Practice listening. Kids sometimes have unrealistic expectations because they don’t
fully listen to facts and directions. Counter this by having them repeat directions
back to you. Slowing down communication helps kids process instructions and
understand how long or complex a project might be.

Teach Problem-Solving Skills

When children learn problem-solving skills, they’ll learn how to think before they
act. Teach your child how to develop several solutions to a problem and then
analyze which solution is likely to have the best outcome. Then, instead of
instinctively hitting a peer who cuts in front of him in line, he can problem-solve
several different ideas of how he can respond.
Develop problem-solving skills. Sometimes plans change, and kids need to cope
when situations don’t go their way. Encourage them to find multiple solutions to a
problem, and let them be part of implementing solutions. Say to your child in a calm
moment: “Pretend you are impatient about not getting the toy right now. What can
you do to make yourself feel better? what else can you do?”

Teach Anger Management Skills

Lack of frustration tolerance can be a big factor in impulse control. Teach your child
how to manage his anger so he can calm himself down when he’s upset. In some
instances, ‘time -out” while doing specific activities can be a good way for kids to
learn how to calm themselves down, as long as it is used as a consequence and not a
punishment. A child will be less likely to seek revenge, break things or hurt people
when he has a better understanding of how to manage his anger.
Learn about “time-in” strategies, which may be more appropriate than time-out
(Time In Strategies by Otto Weinniger; Siegel website Hand Model of the Brain to
teach kids about the brain).

Establish Household Rules

Developing clear rules can help children have a better understanding of what is
expected of them. When kids know that there is no hitting allowed, they are less
likely to hit. Make it clear what the negative consequences will be if the rules are
broken and your child will be less likely to break the rules.

Provide Structure

Providing structure can help you keep your discipline consistent and your routine
the same. When kids know what to expect, there is less chaos and less opportunity
for impulsivity. Set clear limits and repeat the rules often. If you are consistent in
saying, “You need to hold my hand in the parking lot when we get out of the car,”
each and every time you go to the store, your child will be much less apt to take off
running in the parking lot.

Practice Delayed Gratification

Help your child learn how to delay gratification. Sometimes parents don’t tell kids
about fun activities or surprises until right before hand because they know their
child will pester and ask about it constantly. However, kids need opportunities to
practice patiently waiting. A token economy system can be a great way to help kids
practice delaying gratification.

Model Appropriate Behavior

Your child will learn a lot about impulse control by watching you. Model appropriate
ways to wait patiently and tolerate delayed gratification. Teach your child how to
use self-talk by speaking out loud to yourself or to him when you are waiting. This
can help your child learn how to develop his own internal dialogue that will help
him manage his impulses.

Encourage Physical Activities

When kids are physically active they have a better chance at managing their
impulses. When they’re a bundle of energy, they are more likely to act without
thinking. Encourage moderate amounts of physical exercise and activity to keep
them physically and mentally healthy.

Play Impulse Control Games

Play games that provide a young child with a fun way to practice impulse control.
Games such as Simon Says, Red Light Green Light, or Follow the Leader Games
require impulse control and are great for helping kids learn to control impulses and
knee-jerk reactions, since kids have to watch closely, wait for instructions and take
turns being the leader. There is also research from Stanford University that shows
that playing memory games can improve impulse control.
Another way to encourage impulse control is to assist your children to open a
savings account. When kids want a pricey item like a skateboard or a bike, suggest
they help pay for it. A savings account where they can contribute allowance and
birthday money not only demonstrates delayed gratification as they work toward
their ultimate goal, it also shows the value of saving.

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