The Benefits of Delayed Gratification

While a tub of chocolate fudge cookie dough ice cream can satisfy our sweet cravings, we all know that it’ll make us crash eventually. We hate the feeling of lethargy post a sugar rush session, but we still do it because sometimes a quick fix of dopamine is in order. Instant gratification is not always a bad thing when it is done within reason. Sometimes we need to reward ourselves to keep us motivated and moving towards a greater goal.

Walter Mischel, a psychology professor, once tested the theory of instant vs. delayed gratification. He conducted an experiment that consisted of a marshmallow placed in a distraction-free room. A group of four to six-year-old children were offered one marshmallow instantly, but if they waited 15 more minutes they would receive a second serving of marshmallows. The experiment concluded in one-third of the children being able to practice delayed gratification while the remaining children did not.

The infamous marshmallow experiment is an oldie but goodie. Educators and parents recreate similar experiments in an attempt to see if children recognize and understand the idea of delayed gratification.

What is interesting is that Professor Walter Mischel conducted a followed up study on the children who practiced delayed gratification during the marshmallow test. The results showed that these children showed positive traits and performed well academically and socially during their adolescent years.

Today I’ve recreated the experiment

with my 6 and 7-year-old students. I offered to give them one candy immediately, but if they waited 5 minutes longer, I’d give them two pieces of candy. As predicted, I had similar results as Professor Walter Mischel.  One-third of my students were willing to wait while the rest were satisfied with just one candy.

Now although I recognize that other factors may have impacted their decision such as flavor preference, hunger, level of tiredness…etc, it was interesting to see that similar results transpired decades later.

What does this tell us?

Although we live in a world that thrives on instant gratification, children still have the ability to practice delayed gratification. We live a life led by Amazon prime and Google home and so it is no surprise that our children will grow up indulging the benefits of instant gratification. I find that many blame the surrounding environment and how it is impossible to teach the concept of delayed gratification nowadays, but I disagree.

Children are impressionable and as parents, we can harness that power. If we role model the benefits of delayed gratification and guide them with practice, children will latch on inevitably. Of course, our external environment can influence our children’s behavior and decision-making skills but I believe that we can work with what we have and try our best to teach our children these life long skills from a young age.

What are the benefits?

Increased attention span and focus: When children are told to wait, they become very attentive to their surrounds. They start to pay attention to detail. Have you ever told your child to wait until the morning to get their Eid present?

Have you noticed how they suddenly wake up on time to pray Fajr? Or if they are younger, they sit and watch the sunrise like little Hawks.

Confidence: When children are guided to wait for a greater reward, it will help them become more confident in their decision-making skills, which will then lead to high self-esteem. “Good things come to those who wait.”

Patience: The most effective way to teach children patience is through delayed gratification.

Self-control: When children practice delayed gratification, they are practicing a form of self-control and as Muslims; this is a required quality to lead a successful and faithful life.

Enriched social life and academic life: Children who practice delayed gratification are known to show competence in both their academic and social life. This can be largely due to the fact that both of these dynamics require a good amount of patience to become successful. You certainly can’t get a Diploma and a friendship overnight can you?

Stress-Management: It is not surprising that mental health issues and stress are on the rise within children these days. However, delayed gratification can be a means to manage stress because these children are better at prioritizing their life more than others.

Healthy lifestyle: Delayed gratification is key when teaching children about making healthy choices with their nutrition. Yes, grapes are less tempting than chocolate pudding, but which one will help you run faster? Grapes for the win!

Emotional Intelligence: This is one hot topic that is sought after in our generation and parents are always seeking ways to teach their children about it. One skill that can help teach emotional intelligence is delayed gratification because children have a better capacity understanding empathy.

Contentment and gratitude: Children who practice delayed gratification are known to be more content with their lives and are appreciative of the choices they make. They are known to be more grateful as well which then leads to a happier more fulfilled life.

A strong relationship with the religion: Delayed gratification is the highlight of our deen and therefore, practicing it leads to better comprehension and stronger relationship with Allah swt.

Final thoughts:

The benefits are endless and it is without a doubt that delayed gratification is one of the most effective and crucial skills in the lives of children. Additionally, if there is one common theme in our religion it is to resist temporary temptations in this world for a greater reward in the hereafter.

There isn’t a better way than to conclude this post with the words of Allah (swt) as he explains the essence of instant vs. delayed gratification.

“Whoever desires the harvest of the Hereafter – We increase for him in his harvest. And whoever desires the harvest of this world – We give him thereof, but there is not for him in the Hereafter any share.”

Surah 42:19

Guest author for this month’s issue.

Eman has always been passionate about children’s development. She is currently pursuing her Masters in Education while working as an Elementary School Teacher with a background in Early Childhood Education. Eman is also a mother to three biracial children