The other day I was reading an article on why French parents are superior to American parents. (Seriously, go read that article. It’s long, but good.)
I wasn’t too far into the article when I realized that the “French” way to raise children was not too far off from the “Lazy” way of raising children. (If you don’t know the lazy way, start here.) In fact, there weren’t much differences at all.
Then it dawned on me that I must be WAY more cultured and French than I had previously anticipated. *tosses hair over shoulder and strikes a pose*
Anyway, in this article I found one of the main differences from French parenting and American parenting was how we teach our children gratification. The French emphasize delayed gratification, and they do so from infancy–not picking up a baby when they start to cry, but letting them fuss for a bit first and fall back asleep–while Americans notoriously teach instant gratification (What? Let the baby cry? That’s so cruel!).
Interestingly, the natural by-product of the French approach is that their children learn something very valuable that American children aren’t learning–patience.
I mean let’s face it. We currently live in a culture that when we want something, we want it NOW. Even though it wasn’t too long ago that our grandparents understood and practiced delayed gratification. They saved up for that family vacation and squirreled away money for a car so they could buy it with cash. Now we just charge it on a credit card and pay for it later… with interest! And could it be that we really are teaching our children this from infancy?
I like to think Lazy Dad and I have been pretty good about teaching our children delayed gratification. Could we be better at it? Sure. But like I said, our “lazy parenting” was so similar to “French parenting” that I think we got off to a good start and didn’t even realize it.
I vividly recall being at the hospital after having our firstborn and telling the nurse that I had already started my baby on a schedule. Before the words finished leaving my mouth the nurse rebuked me and said, in so many words, that I was “a mean parent” for doing that to my newborn child.
Not to be deterred, Lazy Dad and I stuck to our guns and kept our baby on schedule (after all, he was MY baby, not HERS) and much to our delight he started sleeping through the night at 8 weeks old.
We didn’t realize it then, but just by putting our son on a “mean” schedule we were already teaching him delayed gratification. And so we did with the second and the third child.
For some reason Americans have gotten it into their heads that when we delay gratification for ourselves or our children we are, as that nurse put it, being mean or depriving ourselves. So we’ve twisted our way of thinking about delayed gratification. Instead of instant gratification being wrong, we think delayed gratification is.
By thinking this way, in my opinion, we are successfully raising our kids to be spoiled brats. They call the shots and we jump to fulfill them. So who’s the parent then?
But a “lazy mom” doesn’t let her children call the shots. She’s the parent. She knows what’s best for them. And teaching them delayed gratification doesn’t make us bad or “mean” moms, it makes us GOOD moms. It also teaches them that invaluable skill of patience, which a good mom should teach her children.
So what are some ways we can teach our children delayed gratification in a culture obsessed with gratifying every whim immediately?
- Teach your children from infancy! Letting a baby cry for a few minutes never hurt anything. Don’t pick them up right away. Often times a baby can settle themselves back down if given 10-15 minutes to do so.
- Teach your children how to play by themselves. Americans tend to feel the need to entertain their children constantly, but teaching them how to entertain themselves is a great skill to learn and also teaches them delayed gratification and patience. Toddlers can even play by themselves if taught to. Set up a baby gate in the door jam of their room and let them have 30 minutes of alone play time with their toys every day. It may take several days to a week for them to get the hang of it, but if it’s a part of their daily routine, they’ll catch on quickly.
- Teach your children how to wait for a treat. According to the article, French parents feed their children three times a day with a snack around 4pm. Even if they buy a special treat, the children have to wait for it until an eating time. Americans definitely have a more leisurely meal schedule, but teaching your child to wait for a treat later is something we should do regularly to teach them delayed gratification.
- Teach them how to wait to interrupt you. We were fortunate enough to learn this idea very early with our children when we took a Growing Kids God’s Way class. “The interrupt rule” is something our kids institute often, especially at church! If Lazy Dad or I are talking to someone or even if we are on the phone at home, our children know to use the interrupt rule: putting their hand on our shoulder or leg to let us know they need to interrupt us. You would think this would be difficult to teach a child, but actually it isn’t. When they ran up to us and tried interrupting we would take their hand and put it on our shoulder or leg and instruct them that we were talking and they should wait with their hand there till we could ask them what they needed. In no time at all our children learned the interrupt rule and again, it teaches them delayed gratification and patience.
- Teach your children how to save up for something. This may be the biggest culprit in American parenting–we don’t teach our children how to save, we just buy them what they want when they want it. Like I said before, it wasn’t too long ago that our grandparents saved up for things–a house, a vacation, a car–but somehow we’ve lost that trait in our culture and we’re inadvertently teaching it to our children. Lazy Dad and I are teaching our children that saving for something is the better way, because if they don’t save for it, they’ll be in debt. My middle child especially wants things he sees in the store. One day he really wanted something that was about five dollars, but I wasn’t willing to buy it for him. He pestered and pestered, and asked and asked, the entire time we were at the store. I finally stopped and said to him, “Do you have the money for it that you can pay me back when we get home?” “No,” he said. “Well, if you want it so badly then I can buy it for you…” he started to smile… “but then you are in debt to me and owe me that money. And the way you can work off your debt is by doing LOTS of work around the house whenever I want you to do it.” He thought about it a minute and decided he didn’t like the idea of being in debt to me, so he decided he could save up for it instead. Side note: Just make sure if you use this approach you are really willing to make them work hard to pay off their debt–don’t make it easy!
- Teach your children that delayed gratification is way more satisfying than instant gratification. If your child saves up for something or works hard to achieve a goal, be sure and point out how much more satisfying their approach was. Just by pointing it out, you are teaching them delayed gratification. “I’m SO proud of you for working so hard to save up for that game you really wanted. Doesn’t it feel so much more rewarding than if you had gotten it right away?”
Delayed gratification and patience are such important things to teach our children. It not only translates into our children being better behaved (it really does!), but it also is shaping them into great adults, which is what every parents wants their children to ultimately be. That is the point of parenting after all!
What are some ways you teach your children delayed gratification? Leave a comment below to share with us!
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