Looking for activities when teaching goal setting for kids and students (especially with a growth mindset)? This Delayed Gratification money lesson using chocolate coins is the perfect precursor to goal setting, as it ensures your kid will not only be goal setting in the future, but will be able to stick it until they reach their goal. Great for elementary and middle school. | https://www.moneyprodigy.com/use-chocolate-coin-delayed-gratification-lesson-precursor-goal-setting-kids/

Goal setting for kids comes after you stretch their delayed gratification muscles

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.

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 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.

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?).

Why the Marshmallow Experiment Should Be More than a One-Time Thing in Your Household

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.

Strengthening Your Child’s 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.

The Chocolate Coin Delayed Gratification Lesson

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.