How to Teach Delayed Gratification and Self Control

How to teach delayed gratification (in an instant gratification world)? Let me show you how to stretch your kid's gratification muscles.

Have you thought about how to teach delayed gratification to your kiddo?

Then you've probably heard about the Marshmallow Delayed Gratification experiments.

Pssst: Marshmallow smarshmallow experiments? Here's a quick rundown for you. In the late 1960s and early 1970s psychologist Walter Mischel ran a series of tests on kids aged 4-6 from the Bing Nursery at Stanford University. Each child was offered either one small reward now (their choice of an Oreo, a marshmallow, or a pretzel stick) or a bigger reward (two marshmallows)  if they held out for approximately 15 minutes. An eternity in kid time! In other words, the child could eat the yum-o food immediately, or, if they didn't give into temptation for around 15 minutes, their reward was doubled.

What was really interesting is the finding that years later, the kids who delayed gratification were scoring higher on their SATs plus had lower body mass indices than the kids who did not delay gratification.

Note: these results are debated, and sometimes they don't show up when others try to replicate the experiments.

But that doesn't matter for purposes of this money lesson (this is a precursor to goal setting for kids, fyi).

You see the thing is, I think these experiments are very related to a child's ability to actually see their goals through.

Because let's face it: you need to know how to delay gratification if you're going to reach a goal.

You need to not eat that marshmallow − not only today, but for many days to come − in order to reap rewards that are far greater than what you can get immediately.

I mean, learning how to delay gratification + the stick-to-it-ness to actually do so should basically be a precursor for goal setting, as it'll naturally lead them to much more goal success than if they never understood how or why to delay gratification at all.

Worried your kid is going to be one of the ones to scarf down the marshmallow in one minute flat? Don't worry. Keep reading.

What are Delayed Gratification Examples?

Before we really dive into the marshmallow experiment and the lesson I've got for you today, let's give you a few examples of delayed gratification.

Here's delayed gratification in a sentence:

Delayed gratification is making a sacrifice right now or delaying something enjoyable right now, so that you can enjoy something that's even COOLER/BETTER/MORE PLEASURABLE in the future.

In money terms, the very act of not buying something right now means that you can grow that money and use it in a way that allows you to afford an upgrade in the future. This could be because you are literally growing the money by investing it, putting it in a savings account and earning interest, or that you are growing it's capabilities because there's a sale coming up that will stretch it + you have more time to add additional money to the pot.

Instant Versus Delayed gratification Examples (for both kids AND adults):

  • Buying Christmas decorations in November, when you are thinking about Christmas…versus waiting until the after-Christmas sales to buy Christmas ornaments/decorations because you can get it at a 50%-75% discount.
  • Buying the latest, hot-off-the-press iPhone, versus waiting to buy it a year later when the price is at least 25% less.
  • Buying every book that strikes your fancy at the book store…versus adding it to your interlibrary loan (ILL) list at the library and waiting for them to come in.
  • Draining your piggy bank to get the latest installment in your book series…versus waiting two months until your birthday rolls around and asking for it when your parents want to know what to get you.
  • Spending the $458.33 each month on whatever strikes your fancy…versus sending it to your IRA (individual retirement plan) to max out retirement savings contributions and REALLY live your retirement on your terms decades from now.

Now, let's tune back into why on earth marshmallows are so important when it comes to your kid setting money goals.

Why Marshmallows are Super Relevant to Money Goal Setting for Kids (Not to Mention, Goal-Achieving)

Well…the marshmallows themselves aren't relevant to reaching money goals, but rather the waiting for the marshmallows is.

In your own life, think about how much better finances get when you delay gratification.


:: Keeping 40% of the purchase price of a craft supply from Michael's by delaying the purchase until Sunday when you get a new coupon in your newspaper
:: Money growth by not spending it and instead keeping it in an interest-rich savings account
:: Money growth that leads to a happy retirement by not spending today but investing instead
:: etc.

You might be wondering, “yeah, but, my kid is probably going to eat the marshmallow. Does that mean they're cooked for life?”

I've got good news for you (and for every other parent of a kid who is impulsive…because aren't they all to an extent?). Let me show you one way for how to teach delayed gratification.

What is the Marshmallow Effect? 

You could conduct the Marshmallow Experiment right now on your child as a one-time event. And it'd probably be something fun + interesting to do.

But it turns out that delayed gratification can be a learned behavior.

*Claps hands in delight*

Why is that? In a recent interview with The Atlantic, original experimenter Walter Mischel, explains that for both adults and kids, the ability to delay gratification is actually like a muscle that people can choose whether or not to flex.

So if your goal is to get actual behavior modification − hey, if chimpanzees and some capuchin monkeys can learn it, there's hope for any kiddo − then you want to set up something that isn't one-and-done, but instead offers continual learning + reinforcement opportunities.

Something that will grow that delayed gratification muscle (you know the one, right next to the left bicep?) good and strong when laying the foundations for successful goal setting for kids.

And how do you make any muscle stronger?

With a little repetition + sweat.

Is Your Child Unable to Delay Gratification? How to Strengthen their Delayed Gratification Muscle

I've got a plan for you to both strengthen whatever delayed gratification muscle your child already has + grow it in Money Prodigy fashion.

It's something anyone should do before moving onto money goal setting for kids (also, one of my favorite delayed gratification activities for preschoolers! Why not start them early?).

Delayed Gratification Lesson Using Chocolate Coins

What You'll Need:

#1: Something that has a reward that can be guzzled right now (i.e. the instant gratification).

That's why I love chocolate coins for this, because not only does it offer an immediate reward (the chocolate), but it also resembles money.

You can snag several different-colored chocolate coins minted to look like a quarter from Party City for just $0.07 each.

Don't forget to let your child know that these are special coins because they are chocolate, and can actually be eaten if/when they would like.

#2: A greater reward the coins can be traded in for in the future.

You could take this in a few different directions:

  1. Get More Chocolate Coins: So if they hold out from eating them and instead allow them to accumulate, they get double the amount at the end of the agreed upon time.
  2. Get an Item or Experience: So if they hold out from eating them and instead allow them to accumulate to a certain amount, there's an item or experience waiting for them at the end.
  3. Get Actual Money: So if they hold out from eating them, instead allowing them to accumulate to a certain amount, then they can trade them in for actual money.

Psst: Do you want to really relate this to money? You can put the concept of interest into your child's brain, and tell them that their money will earn a form of interest from you guys if they can hold onto it until X date.

#3: A system for how to trade in the coins.

You need to develop some sort of system that tells the child:

  • How the chocolate coins are valued: Are purple coins worth more than green coins?
  • How the chocolate coins are earned: Such as when they complete X chore, when they do a good job on X, etc.

#4: Trust that the other, bigger, reward is really there.

Trust that the bigger reward will actually be there (and that they aren't delaying their chocolate gratification for nothing) is really important. So much so that in the Marshmallow Experiments they laid out the extra marshmallows on a tray right in front of the kid.

How can you keep this bigger reward top of mind for your child so that they trust it is there, plus maintain momentum? Could you keep the reward on the fridge using a magnet? Write it on the end of this week's chore chart so they keep their eyes on the prize?

#5 A duration of time.

Decide on how long your kid needs to delay their gratification before they can cash in on the bigger reward.

This isn't the Marshmallow Experiment, so no need to up the ante for your child after only waiting 15 minutes (unless you think that's a good place for them to start). You can have them put some sweat into this.

Typically, the younger the child, the shorter the duration you want them to endure. So perhaps a few days for a child aged 6-8, and a month for a teenager. You choose, and if what you choose seems too challenging at first, then change how you do it the next time. You're in charge of this!

Once that time is up, either deliver on the goods, or start over if they already ate the chocolate coins.

Remember, repetition counts here.

Since delayed gratification is like a muscle, you might need to try this out a few times before some self-control is built up. And if it doesn't work for your child this year? Revisit it again next year, when their brain's natural impulses have had a chance to mature a little.

How to teach delayed gratification to help my kid reach their goals? I love goal setting for kids, and my child definitely has goals, but how do I get them to stop spending all their money now so that they get the reward later? This is a really cool way to help kids with stretching their delayed gratification, which is really needed in prep for kids goal setting. Plus, it's just plain fun! #kids #goalsetting #kidactivities

A Vision Board for Kids Can Be Fun and Helpful with this Trick

Get the trick that makes a vision board for kids one of the most motivational ways for them to meet their goals. 

You’ve heard of the vision board, right?

You know, where you collect a bunch of drool-worthy images showing whatever it is that you want to be/do/have in your life and then create a collage by hand or digitally?

A vision board can also be a great tool for trying to teach a kid or teen to get sustain motivation while they’re trying to meet a savings goal (such as how to save up for an iPhone as a teen).

But not just any vision board will do.

It’s reverse-engineering a vision board, so that your teen reveals a piece of an image of their goal each time they set a certain amount of money aside for it. It's one of my favorite vision board topics, ‘cause it works. 

Let’s get started!

What is a Vision Board and How Does it Work?

Before we dive into what goes on a vision board + the trick, you should probably be able to explain to your child what a vision board is and how it works.

A vision board is simply a collection of images (or just one) that physically represents a goal that you have. The idea is that if you see what you want in life, you will be motivated to go after it and make it a reality. It's a reminder of what you're working towards, and can really help when you lose motivation during the goal process.

As Psychology Today points out, merely making a vision board is not enough to get your child the goal that they want — they really need to take action on it. The vision board for kids is merely a tool to keep them motivated so that they take the daily and weekly actions needed to get to where they want to be.

How it works is what we'll be going through below.

What Goes on a Vision Board? Here's a 5-Step Process to Figure that Out

I'll be walking you through a 5-step process to figure out what goes on your kid's vision board.

First, we'll figure out what they want as their goal (a vision board for kids goes hand-in-hand with goal setting for kids). Then, we'll figure out how much that goal costs.

I'll then walk you through the rest of the steps to do this trick, but you should know that we're going to start off with figuring out what your child wants to be/do/have in their lives (i.e. what their goal is).

Step #1: Help Your Kiddo Set a Savings Goal

The first thing you’ll need? Is an actual savings goal. Just one.

I know, I know – getting your child to set their eyes on just ONE thing they want at this particular moment in time can be a bit daunting.

But don’t stop here.

I’ve got a one-page guide that will help your child dream-storm all their savings goals, then – and here’s the important part of money saving tips for kids – narrow it down to the one that will yield the quickest win. Because if they can meet their savings goal quickly? Then they’ll be more likely to come back to the goal-setting line again and again.

And that, Mama Bear, is worth its weight in gold.

Step #2: Figure Out How Much it Costs

Your kiddo’s next step is to come up with a Target Savings Goal Amount – i.e. the amount of money it’s going to cost to be able to purchase what they want to be/do/have. You have to have a target goal so your child knows that this money saving tips for kids is realistic, not just a pipe dream.

I’m going to use the iPhone as an example, as it turns out quite a few tweens and teens are curious as to how to save up for an iPhone as a kid.

In order to price my Target Savings Goal Amount, I need to conduct a little research.

This means I’ll:

  • Look in-store to see if there are any upcoming promotions that could be a better deal than purchasing online.
  • Look online to price shop a few places, such as at Virgin Mobile, versus purchasing from the Apple store directly.
  • Try out price shopping for different variations in models, colors, storage space, etc.
  • Look into other buying options that will be cheaper, such as buying a pre-certified, or pre-loved phone with some sort of warranty at a fraction of the original cost.

After I gather all of this info, I’ll settle on the option that I want. This will answer how much my Target Savings Goal Amount is.

In my case, it will be $374.99. This would be through Virgin Mobile, for the iPhone 6S, brand new (in case you’re wondering).

Step #3: Create an Engaging, Vibrant Vision Board

Next, your teen will want to create their own vision board. They can do this online, but they’ll need to print out their creation so that they have it in front of them to do this vision board trick.

Help them search Google Images for images of what they want to be/do/have. You can also help them use an image-intense search engine, like Pinterest. Perhaps they can use some magazines lying around.

Maybe they just want one image of what they want to embody their vision board, or perhaps they want many. Doesn’t matter – let them have full creative reign here!

Step #4: How Do You Make an Effective Vision Board? Reverse Engineer it

Now it’s time to break out the post-it notes. You’re going to help them do a little math to figure out how much each “post-it note” real estate is going to be worth on the board.

Take into account how much their Target Savings Goal Amount is for, and how much space they have on their vision board to cover.

Take a look at the vision board I created, and you’ll see that I decided to value each post-it note at $25. This means I’ll need 15 post-it notes ($374.99/$25 = 15).

If I had valued each post-it note at $5, then I would have needed 74 of them…so do some calculations to see which dollar denomination makes sense for your kiddo’s savings goal and for the amount of space you’ve got.

For example, if your teen’s Target Savings Amount is $200, and you’re working off a vision board the size of a regular 8” X 11” paper, then you might want to make each post-it note worth $25. That way, you would need to use 8 post-it notes ($200/$25 = 8) to cover the entire image.

Whichever amount you choose, write it on each of the post-it notes and cover your vision board in a single layer. Do a quick calculation at the end to make sure the entire Target Savings Goal amount is covered.

Step #5: Pluck Off those Post-It Notes

Now, as your teen saves those denominations, they get to pluck off a post-it note to reveal part of what they’ll eventually get to be/do/have.

How fun is that?

They can choose to take the post-it note from wherever they’d like.

For example, if I set aside $50 this month to go towards my iPhone, then I get to pluck off two post-it notes from my vision board, revealing part of the image of what I am saving for. If I set aside just $15 next week, I’ll wait until I can set aside another $10 in order to pluck off one.

You can even make a note on one of the post-it notes to keep track of how much more you need to save in order to pluck it off.

It’s like a savings game!

What a fun money savings tip for kids. Reverse-engineering a vision board is kind of addicting – don’t be surprised if you try this out for yourself. And in the meantime? Your teen or kiddo will be working towards both what they want + an invaluable money lesson of how to save up for their purchases instead of going into debt to buy them (not to mention a lesson in goal-setting and how important visualizations can be).

It’s a money win-win!

I would love vision board for kids ideas to show my daughter – she wants to save up for an iPhone as her kid’s goal, and I think this will be just the thing to help her keep motivated. It makes a nice mini-project for kids, tweens, and teens who are learning about goal setting. Heck, I can use it for our family goal and my own goal as well! #familygoals #kids #goalsetting