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Work For It – On Deferred Gratification

April 9, 2012

“Not right now.”

I think, for parents, this is the hardest lesson we are required to teach. These little beings come out of the womb with one thing at the top of mind: “I want what I want and I want it now.”

Some parents never manage to get the lesson across, and children grow up thinking that having what they want, whenever they want it, is their right. Entitled.

But the world doesn’t support this – we must work for what we earn, we must study for what we learn. Practice makes perfect. Time is required.

In our house, we have always felt it was pretty important to teach the kids early that waiting is a good thing.

“Not right now.”

Sometimes the best we can accomplish is waiting for a few minutes, or hours.

My little people have an extra dose of the “I wants” and we’ve battled that will since Day One.

“But I want it!” was his battle cry.

We try to rationalize, coax and encourage, but it’s rare to see him willingly wait.

Until recently.

Scooby has been asking to learn Martial Arts for a few years. We’ve dabbled in other sports – soccer and baseball, but neither held much appeal. Finally the time came to try some Kenpo Karate at our local community center. It was a six week class for beginners; first-timers were not required to buy a gi, the cute little white pajamas worn by the other students of martial arts.

But of course, after the first class, Scooby wanted that gi, he wanted to look official. Not wanting to add to the collection of sports gear piling up the closet and going unused,  we told him he could have one if he completed the six week course and still wanted to continue. Being one of several new students arriving at class in shorts and t-shirts, he was cool with the plan until about four weeks into the course. All the other students, at that point, had bought their gi and he was the only one without one.

We sat him down one night and talked it over.

“But I want one now!” This we expected, so we offered a compromise and a little test.

How about this – you can have one now, but you’ll have to pay for part of it out of your own money. Or, you can wait, and complete the final two weeks of class without one, and we’ll buy the whole thing for you and it won’t cost you anything.

Pay now, or free later.

I was certain he would want it now. But he surprised us.

“I’ll wait! Why should I waste my money if I can have it for free in just two more weeks?”

He sounded so sensible and mature, I almost choked.

And wait he did, and finished the class, and there was no little ninja more proud of his accomplishment than he was yesterday when he was promoted to yellow belt AND wore his very first gi. A lesson learned in deferred gratification, accomplishment, practice and the pursuit and achievement of a goal.

I call that a parenting win. If only it could always be so easy.

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3 Comments leave one →
  1. cherigregory permalink
    April 9, 2012 8:32 am

    Good for you! Good for him!

    Either way would have been a “win” — you didn’t offer the “have whatever you want whenever you want” option that causes so many reinforcement errors. If he’d bought it early, he would have realized, two weeks later, how much he wished he had the money.

    But by waiting and receiving it free, he laid down neural pathways that will serve him well!

  2. April 9, 2012 8:52 am

    Great post, and I can’t think of a better fit, sports-wise, for Scoob. And I LOVE the picture of the plain-clothes ninja among all those other kids who didn’t have to learn a lesson in patience. Don’t say the words “cute little white pajamas” anywhere near his class, though, unless you want to embarrass him to high heaven! (Which you may want to, at some point. 😉

  3. Bethany Hall Fitelson permalink
    April 10, 2012 3:38 pm

    What a great post, and a great story! Scoob is growing up so fast, and it’s amazing to see him learning these lessons. You guys are great parents, balancing giving your darlings everything they need to be content while not letting them grow a sense of entitlement. How great to see him EARN that outfit!

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