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Managing your children's expectations

Intrinsically linked to savings and spending, the ability to manage expectations at a young age is a major learning opportunity that will shape many behaviours of adulthood.

Child psychologists, such as Jean Piaget , Sigmund Freud and Walter Mischel, recognized that many young children are unable to resist the urge for an immediate reward and wait for a later, greater one. That's called delayed gratification, or the ability to defer gratification. While some children can resist the urge, others are completely incapable to.

These individual differences in children's ability to wait for a reward was demonstrated through the marshmallow experiment, which was first conducted by researchers at Stanford University and repeated at Rochester University in New York State.

The marshmallow experiment

The premise of the original marshmallow experiment was simple: the researcher would place a marshmallow in front of a child with the instructions not to eat the marshmallow in the researcher's absence. The researcher would go on to say that if the marshmallow was still on the table upon returning, the child would get two marshmallows as a reward.

Researchers would take note of the amount of time each child would resist the temptation. After several years, they followed up with each child and analyzed their academic, athletic, individual and professional successes.

They showed that there is a direct correlation between our ability to delay gratification and success later on in life. In other words, self-discipline and the ability to delay immediate reward can lead to a better achievement of long-terms goals and better life outcomes.

Summary of the research findings

During the second experiment, researchers found that the children's response was not only based on their self-control abilities, but also on an implicit, rational decision-making process.

3 ways to help older kids delay gratification

  • 1. Foster sensible spending
    Help kids recognize advertising strategies used to sell products. They will come to understand basic sales and marketing notions and will take great joy in unmasking false advertising. Ask them to research an item they really want and to poll their peers and loved ones before deciding to buy. This will help them come to the realization that it's sometimes better to pay more for a single durable good rather than buying several lower-quality items.
  • 2. Teach them how to appreciate anticipation
    Satisfaction can often be found in anticipation rather than the actual achievement of a project or purchase. Using a calendar to track expected events can also be quite useful in helping your children understand the notion of anticipation. This method will also allow them to become aware of passing time and that they're getting closer and closer to their goal. This way, children learn that anticipation can be fun and gratifying.
  • 3. Open a savings account
    A savings account is a great tool to learn how to defer gratification. It also teaches the importance and the power of saving money, as well as the real value of desired goods.


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