How do I encourage patience in an instant gratification world?
IN OUR OFFICES, we hear the term “instant gratification” a lot. Sometimes it is used to describe an individual: “Megan is driving me crazy about getting the new iPhone,” and sometimes to describe a generation: “Young people can’t wait for anything anymore!” But before we jump all over our children’s generation, think back to how impatient we were as we grew up. The truth is, we have all preferred having our needs and wants met with immediacy; perhaps what has changed for those of us living in the 21st century is that we are now getting used to pulling it off.
Much of this shift can be traced to the pervasive influence of technology in our day-to-day lives. We search instead of think, we Google instead of ponder and we get it Prime so our waiting is minimal. It’s hard to rest in the moment because our world has become such a fast game. Parents sometimes say to us that our culture is creating impatience in their child. But our kids still need to develop the critical life skill of delayed gratification – even if the culture makes it harder.
It is the parent’s responsibility to teach their child how to wait – whether they are waiting for things (presents, parties, vacations, new jeans, candy at the checkout line, the latest Xbox), or waiting for direction or resolution when life is tough or throws them a curveball (like a best friend’s rejection, an ill grandparent, an unfair teacher, a difficult sibling relationship). As far as things are concerned, a parent has to be willing to ignore the whines and complaints and respond with simplicity. In other words, just say “No.” Don’t engage with an impatient child. Don’t negotiate or argue about things. These parent skills (which have to do more with backing off) are difficult to learn because it requires delayed gratification on the part of the parent.
More importantly, for a child to learn how to wait for direction or resolution, we offer three thoughts:
First, children need to hear from you that being uncomfortable or not knowing how something will turn out is just part of life. Tension in life is normal and to be expected. A child must learn how to live with and through that tension, allowing time to process feelings and gain a new perspective on reality. If we promote the false premise that life should be “easy” and all situations can be “fixed,” we’re setting our kids up for depression and disappointment in life.
Second, we need to hold ourselves back when we want to “fix” a tough situation for our child. Some parents intervene too early and too often when their child is going through tough times. This will not help a child learn to wait. When it comes to getting involved, timing is everything and parents should ask the question (preferably dozens of times): “Do I need to get involved with this right now?” It’s usually more maturing for the child and less work for you to wait and see how your child will process and cope with a difficult circumstance, and they will likely become better problem solvers if you do.
Yet, it doesn’t mean we’re not part of their lives in these times. We’re in it for the long haul. In those moments when our child experiences frustration, refrain from immediately intervening or managing the outcome for the child. Listen to what they’re going through and how they’re handling things. Let them experience the tension, live through it and process what it means. Allow them to become strong and build character.
Finally, we need to look at our own beliefs. Perhaps the strongest appeal of an immediately gratifying world is that it confirms our false belief that we live in a world with immediate and simple solutions. We start thinking about problems and setbacks, and measuring them in how much time it will take to get life back where it is “supposed” to be. It is appealing to imagine that all the things that weigh us down and trouble us are mostly challenges that have simple solutions that lie just around the corner. This fictional mindset can be especially comforting for our kids, as it can be hard to watch our children endure the discomfort of waiting for the outcome. The driving force behind a quick fix might simply be in the nature of the question itself. Nothing with a simple and quick solution could ever be that difficult or complex a problem to begin with.
A challenge of teaching our kids to move from an immediate gratification world to a delayed gratification world is that a significant part of our own selves would like to keep it the former. The goal is that we ultimately want our children to grow up content with long-term gratification rather than demanding instant gratification. It is a good lesson for us to heed as well.
Michael W. Anderson is a Licensed Psychologist who has spent 30 years studying the way kids grow up. His inquisitive nature and unusual perspectives have resulted in insights that are refreshing, thought-provoking and unique.
Timothy D. Johanson, M.D. is a Clinical Associate Professor of Pediatrics at the University of Arizona with a commitment to children’s health. With 25 years of general practice with a focus on behavioral disorders, he has observed an alarming rise in stress in children and confusion around how to parent in ways that prepare children for adult life.
This article originally appeared in the Spring 2017 issue of The MOPS Magazine. If you didn’t get a copy and would like your own, you can subscribe to get The MOPS Magazine in your mailbox every season. If you subscribe, forward your receipt to firstname.lastname@example.org and we’ll shoot a copy of the current issue in the mail to you for free … just because we like you.