In this video, my 3-year-old son finds a toy he desperately wants to own. He is obsessed with cars, and while walking through Michaels craft store to shop for framing supplies (I am a photographer), one of the impulse buy racks of cars caught his eye. Watch as he goes from begging for the cars to helping us add them to his wish list to walking away happily, leaving the cars behind. All thanks to the app I created, bWISHd!
This app demonstrates the power of validation. When I say validation, I mean acknowledging and respecting/honoring the feelings, experiences, and wishes of your child. I often see parents struggle to find a balance between validation and capitulation (giving in to the demands of their children.) I have a little advice to offer.
As a parent, we feel pulled to validate our children, especially toddlers. When our children express an emotion or a desire, we try to listen and be understanding.
We want our children to be happy. Sometimes it might seem like saying “no” is the same as crushing your child’s spirit. But at the same time, you can’t just give them every single thing they beg for, right? Conventional wisdom says that will “spoil” your children, but I hate that term. Children don’t “go bad” like a banana. Children learn from the lessons their parents teach. We teach our children everything we can, from how to tie a shoe to how to share. If you teach your child that every time they want something, you will give it to them right away, your child will think that is how the world works. That is a tough lesson to un-teach. And when your child reaches adulthood, they won’t be equipped to cope with life if that well of generosity ever runs dry. It sets up an attitude of entitlement – the feeling that they deserve whatever they wish simply because they wish it.
How do we switch from teaching entitlement to something that will better serve them?
Enter deferred gratification.
When your child wants something really badly, listen to them. Let them know you heard them and respect their feelings. You can say something like, “wow, that does look pretty amazing.” And then teach them how to wait. Asking them, “would you like to put this on your wish list?” empowers them to take charge of that waiting. Their wishes are heard and honored, and they have a voice in what happens next, but they are not entitled to receive the item just because they wish for it in that moment.
That is what deferred gratification is – waiting to receive what you want. Deferred gratification is a muscle that can be strengthened by the process I just described. When your child needs it, that muscle can be flexed to help them cope with strong desires. It is an exercise in patience and self control. Deferred gratification enhances gratitude (one of the key ingredients of a happy life) and teaches good financial habits at the same time. It can even equip your children to better deal with other impulsive desires later in life; desires relating to healthy food choices, sex, and even whether or not to engage in dangerous recreational drug use.
Teaching deferred gratification will set your child up for a happier, healthier, more stable life. In the short term, your child will be more thankful for the gift received a month later than they would have been if you had bought it for them right away. In the long term, you have equipped your children to make better decisions throughout their lives.