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Impulse Control and Delayed Gratification: Teaching Your Child an Essential Skill

Impulse Control and Delayed Gratification: Teaching Your Child an Essential Skill

The Importance of Impulse Control and Delayed Gratification

Impulse control and delayed gratification are essential skills that every child should learn. As a board-certified behavior analyst with over 20 years of experience working with autistic children and adults, I believe that these skills can be taught and strengthened through systematic intervention. It is a common misconception that some children are born with these abilities while others are not. In reality, impulse control and delayed gratification are behaviors that can be learned and developed.

The Marshmallow Experiment and Long-Term Outcomes

A classic psychology study on impulse control and delayed gratification involved young children being offered a marshmallow with the promise of receiving two marshmallows if they could wait for 15 minutes. The study found a strong correlation between children who were able to delay gratification and positive long-term outcomes. These children performed better academically, had fewer disciplinary issues, and had greater success in various aspects of life. Although this study was correlational and not causational, it highlights the importance of teaching children how to control their impulses and delay immediate rewards.

Teaching Impulse Control: Start Small and Set Them Up for Success

Every child can be successful in learning impulse control if we set them up for success. It is crucial to start small, especially if your child tends to be impulsive. For example, you can use a simple task involving candy or another preferred treat. Place a piece of candy in front of your child and instruct them to wait for a few seconds before they can have it. Gradually increase the waiting time and provide positive reinforcement for their efforts; provide specific praise about how well they kept their hands away from the treat, how well they waited, and how hard they worked.

Generalizing the Skill and Moving Beyond Jelly Beans

To ensure that the skill of impulse control is generalized, it is essential to move beyond the specific context of treats. Encourage your child to practice impulse control in various situations where they have to resist the immediate desire for something they want. This can involve using the word "wait" in different contexts and teaching them to stop themselves from reaching out or grabbing something impulsively. By gradually building up the waiting time, you can help your child develop this valuable skill.

Working Together as a Community

Teaching impulse control and delayed gratification can sometimes present challenges. As a community, we can support each other by sharing our experiences and troubleshooting strategies. If you have tried teaching your child impulse control, feel free to leave a comment below. Let us know what difficulties you have encountered, and together we can develop effective strategies to help your child acquire this essential skill.

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