Your kids don’t just navigate smartphones, tablets and computers better than you, they also live very much in the “now” — want a treat now, want to go somewhere now, want to do things now, want “Likes” now!
Instant gratification is the name of today’s game — but it also hurts kids’ future chances. Says Dr Hana Ra Adams, a family therapist/counsellor who is currently working with the German European School Singapore, says teaching children self-control is important in helping them to take a step back from problems and work to find solutions.
“Children who are able to delay gratification manage stress more effectively and learn to control their reactions to situations that may cause frustration or difficulty.”
Also, says Fiona Walker, principal of Julia Gabriel Centre Singapore, “As parents, we sometimes have to be the unpopular one and this means saying ‘no’ and ‘wait’. Giving in to their demands and letting them have what they want, when they want it is really doing a long-term disservice to them. Letting children have a treat, or reward only when they have achieved something gives them a far greater sense of satisfaction and of self-worth.
“So, mummies and daddies, stand strong and just say ‘NO’ every now and then!”
Here’s how to start…
1) Taking turns
One way is to read stories at bedtime, even once your child is older, suggests Walker. “You can read together, taking it in turns to read a page.”
Playing games, such as Monopoly, chess or Cluedo, means taking turns and models to your child the fact that you don’t always win — which is important to understand and accept.
2) Identifying feelings
Dr Adams says, “If your child is able to verbally label and identify feelings, he or she can learn to express them without resorting to non-verbal means. Instead of hitting his sister because he is frustrated, he can tell you how he is feeling and gain your assistance to solve the problem without physical means.”
3) Use a calendar
Work with older children to use a calendar and plan for activities or events, suggests Dr Adams. “Go through a calendar and set an important future date. Count how many days until the event and cross out each day as you get closer. Your child may become excited as each day draws nearer or frustrated that the days are not coming faster. Talk through these feelings with your child and help them develop strategies to manage either emotion.”
4) Practise waiting
“Getting children to wait, even if it is eating dinner before they have a cookie, to wait until their birthday before they get a new toy or gadget they have seen, to wait until they have received their grades before they reward themselves with something they want,” says Walker.
5) Reward system
Dr Adams suggests that for children starting school, you could set up a small monetary allowance or reward system for household chores. Let your child earn a small amount for taking out the recycling or walking the dog or whatever a manageable task may be. Household chores help your child develop a sense of responsibility and by being rewarded gradually over time, he or she will know the value of putting in hard work for a meaningful reward.
6) Mindfulness and focus
Walker says that mindfulness is becoming more popular in schools across the world as it is proving to be a very successful way to help children develop the focus and concentration that is needed to both delay gratification and ignore the digital distractions around us all the time. Other activities to help focus kids’ minds include coloring and drawing.