What Delay of Gratification Means for Tweens

What is Delay of Gratification?

Young girl doing homework on floor of home office.
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Delay of gratification refers to the ability to put off the receipt of an immediate reward in order to gain a better reward later. Your tween is old enough to know or understand that delaying gratification may be difficult, but that there is a potential reward for his ability. Here's what parents should know about delay of gratification and their tween's maturity and growth.

Example of Delay of Gratification

Delay of gratification is a discipline strategy that refers to the ability to put off the receipt of a reward in order to gain a better reward later. For instance, say that a tween is supposed to be working on a final project for social studies class. His or her parents have said that if he or she earns all Bs and As in class, they'll take their student out to dinner at a favorite restaurant for a family dinner together. But tonight a favorite TV show is on and the student wants to watch it. He or she knows that if he or she watches the TV show, his or her project will suffer. Does the student take the immediate reward (watching the show) or does he or she choose to instead work on the project tonight so that he or she can get the dinner in the future? This is a question of a child's ability to handle the delay of gratification.

Another example of delay of gratification is the spend now or save later predicament. For example, your child may want a new bike. He or she has enough money saved to purchase an inexpensive bike that's not really what he or she wants. Or, your tween can continue saving to get the bike they really want.

Delay of gratification steadily improves from the early childhood years into adolescence. Individuals often do not internalize delay of gratification until the teen years or later.

In other words, children and tweens typically need external guidance to help them choose the later, better reward over the immediate, small reward. This means that parental supervision of homework and other delayed feedback tasks are essential during the childhood and tween years.

How Can Parents Help Foster a Child's Ability to Delay Gratification? 

As a parent, you can encourage your child to delay gratification with a few simple tips. For starters, help your child work toward his or her goal with a step by step plan. If your tween is working on a big project with the promise of a nice dinner once it's completed, help him or her map out a plan to get to the finish line. You could develop a calendar for your child to review or establish goals that are written down and can be reviewed. Offer encouragement as your tween progresses through the project and motivate your student as he or she gets closer and closer to the goal. 

Be sure that you carry through on any promise that you made to your tween. If you promised your child that you would go to the movies after he or she brings up a math grade, be sure you make good on your promise once your child has accomplished the goal. 

In the end, your child will eventually learn that the choices we all make come with consequences. Delaying gratification can help your tween set his or her sites on bigger goals, and work towards achieving them.

Also Known As: "deferred gratification" or "delay of gratification"

By Rebecca Fraser-Thill
Rebecca Fraser-Thill holds a Master's Degree in developmental psychology and writes about child development and tween parenting.