Teaching Delayed Gratification: Building Important Skills For Children With Disabilities

ask silvia May 24, 2023

(Photo 14997390 © Darko64 | Dreamstime.com)

As an early intervention specialist and a parent, I understand the importance of teaching delayed gratification to all children, including children with disabilities. It is a valuable life skill that helps them learn patience, perseverance, and the ability to work towards what they want.

In this blog, I share practical strategies to help parents, teachers, and early years educators support children in developing this essential skill.

The Value of Delayed Gratification:

When we think about our own lives, we often find situations where we have to wait or work for something we want. Saving money for a trip, studying for an exam, or working hard for a promotion are all examples of delayed gratification.
Similarly, children with additional needs also benefit from learning to be patient and to wait, and as they grow older, work towards achieving something they want.

Setting the Foundation: Encouraging Engagement and Enjoyment in Learning

To begin, parents and educators must encourage a love for learning and play in children with disabilities rather than relying on reward systems, as some approaches for autistic children do. I focus on creating an environment where children genuinely enjoy their learning experiences. Children have a natural curiosity and find pleasure in achieving new milestones.

Teaching Patience and Setting Boundaries in a Fast-Paced World

When I talk about teaching delayed gratification, I am not referring to using a reward system where children must complete specific tasks to earn a prize. Delayed gratification goes beyond that, and it is about helping children understand that everything has its time and we can only sometimes have what we want immediately. In a world where instant gratification is becoming the norm, it is crucial to instil these skills in our children.

Teaching our children the concept of delayed gratification involves imparting valuable lessons, such as waiting for mealtimes instead of eating whenever they feel hungry. This can be particularly challenging for children with disabilities. It also means helping them cope with situations at the supermarket when they have to accept that they cannot have every chocolate bar or toy they desire. Although it may be difficult for young children, we can work towards achieving this goal together.

Many parents struggle with managing their children's screen time, and I can empathize as I face similar challenges with my autistic son. That's why teaching waiting and establishing rules around technology usage can be beneficial. For example, you can introduce the concept of "first we play, then TV" or set a rule where homework comes before computer time. Find what works best for your family and implement it consistently.

Teaching delayed gratification, setting boundaries, and establishing limits is crucial for maintaining a harmonious family life and for the overall well-being of our children, including those with disabilities. It helps them develop essential life skills contributing to their personal growth and success.

Supporting Children with Developmental Delays and Language Difficulties

It is essential to acknowledge that some children, especially those with developmental delays or communication needs, may struggle to understand and practice waiting. However, with support and guidance, progress can be made.

Here are some simple strategies for parents to implement:
• Break it down:
Before giving a child what they want, ask them to complete a quick task that can be done in a few seconds. For instance, if a child wants food, you can clean their hands with a wet towel or set up a plate. This approach helps them learn to wait for a short period or follow simple instructions to earn what they desire.

• Request a task:
If a child wants something, such as an iPad, ask them to complete a specific task before granting their request. For example, they can sit on the couch or tidy up their toys. Even if the child struggles with following instructions, you can simplify it by asking them to sit and wait briefly.

• Time delay:
Establishing routines and time-based expectations can facilitate delayed gratification. Consider reintroducing traditional practices, such as designated TV time in the evening, weekend treats, or encouraging children to save pocket money for desired toys. These customs teach children the valuable lesson of waiting, being patient, and working towards their goals.

Consistency and Patience for Long-Term Benefits

Implementing strategies for delayed gratification may pose challenges, particularly for children with additional needs. As a parent myself, I understand these struggles. However, you can empower your child to develop this vital skill by maintaining consistency, patience, and ongoing support.

Navigating Behavioural Challenges

If you want to learn more about teaching delayed gratification and gain further insights into managing behavioural challenges, I invite you to join my upcoming masterclass. Together, we can explore effective strategies and practical tips for navigating behavioural challenges with your child.

During the masterclass, we will delve deeper into the concept of delayed gratification and explore tailored approaches for children with disabilities. I will share real-life examples and success stories to inspire and motivate you on this journey. We will discuss the importance of consistency, patience, and adaptability in implementing the best strategies for your child.

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