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Delaying Gratification

Delaying gratification is a process of scheduling the pain and pleasure of life in a way which will enhance the pleasure, by meeting and experiencing the pain first and getting it over with.

Most people develop a capacity to delay gratification. However, a substantial minority fail. Why is this? Most signs point to the quality of parenting.

Quality of parenting

When parents do things in a certain way, it seems to the young child the way they should be done. If a child sees his parents always behaving with self-discipline, restraint, dignity and with a capacity to order their own lives, then the child will deeply feel that this is the way to live. If a child sees his parents are without self-discipline or restraint, then he will believe this is the way to live.

More important than role modelling is love. For even in chaotic and disordered homes, genuine love is present, and from these homes can come self-disciplined children. Often parents who are professional people, who lead lives of strict orderliness and decorum, but lack love, send children into the world who are undisciplined, destructive and disorganised.

Ultimately, love is everything. When we love something, it is of value to us. When something is of value to us, we spend time with it, time in enjoying and taking care.

Good discipline requires time. Parents who spend time with their children, even when it is not demanded, will see in them subtle needs for discipline, to which they can respond with guidance, offered with thoughtfulness and care.

So it is that the quality of discipline afforded by loving parents is superior to the discipline of unloving parents. But, this is just the beginning. In taking the time to observe and to think about their children's needs, loving parents will frequently agonise over the decisions to be made. They will, in a very real sense, suffer along with the children. The children are not blind to this. They will know when their parents are willing to suffer with them and, although they may not respond with immediate gratitude, they too will learn to suffer. This is the beginning of their self-discipline.

The time and the quality of the time parents devote to their children will show how much they are valued by their parents. When children know that they are valued and feel this deeply, then they themselves will feel valuable.

The feeling of being valuable is essential to mental health. It is the cornerstone of self-discipline; a direct product of parental love. Such a conviction must be gained in childhood. It is extremely difficult to acquire as an adult. Consequentially, when children have learned, through the love of their parents, to feel valuable, almost nothing in adult life can destroy their spirit. They will have a deep sense of security.

When we think of ourselves as valuable, we will take care of ourselves in all ways that are necessary. We will think of our time as valuable and want to use it well.

With an internal sense of the consistent safety of the world, a child is free to delay gratification of whatever kind, secure in the knowledge that the opportunity for gratification, like home and parents, is always there, available when needed.

Children, abandoned in actuality or psychologically, enter adulthood lacking any deep sense that the world is a safe and protective place. To the contrary, they see it as dangerous and frightening. They are not about to forsake any gratification or security in the present for the promise of greater gratification or security in the future, since for them the future seems very dubious.

So, for children to develop the capacity to delay gratification, it is necessary for them to have:

self-disciplined role models;a sense of self-worth; and,a degree of trust in the safety of their existence.These gifts are ideally acquired through the self-discipline and consistent, genuine care of their parents. When these gifts have not been received from parents, it is possible to acquire them from elsewhere, but the process will be a lifelong uphill struggle and often unsuccessful.

Problem solving and time

Many people simply do not take the time necessary to solve life's intellectual, social or psychological problems. However, there is a defect in the approach to problem solving more basic and destructive than impatient, inadequate attempts to find instant solutions. It is the universal hope that problems will go away of their own accord.

Problems do not go away. They must be worked through or else they remain, forever, a barrier to the growth and development of the person.

To willingly confront a problem early, before we are forced to by circumstances, means to put aside something pleasant or less painful for something more painful. It is choosing to suffer now in the hope of future gratification, rather than choosing to continue present gratification in the hope that future suffering will not be necessary.

Parents see problems in their children or in their relationship with them long before they take action. While children may "grow out of it", it never hurts to help them or look closely at problem earlier before it becomes larger, more painful and more difficult to solve.

Exploration and Discussion

1. To what degree were your needs met as a child?
Complete the table below, where 1 means "unmet" and 5 means "fully met".








(a) Your own space and possessions
(b) Your right to privacy
(c) A dependable schedule
(d) Someone who listened to you
(e) Affirmation of your worth
(f) Freedom to make choices
(g) Affection shown to you
(h) Promises made to you and kept

2. Who was there for you when you came home?

3. How secure did you feel in your world?

4. Concerning delaying gratification:

(a) What messages did you receive?

(b) What was modelled by your parents?

(c) What did they teach you verbally?

5. What gratification were you denied, and why?

6. What influences in the world today encourage or discourage delaying gratification?
List as many as you can think of.

7. Which influences have the most impact in your life?

8. How do they impact on your life?

9. What issue of satisfying or delaying gratification are you most struggling with at present?

10. What do you want most in your life and what are you prepared to put aside now in order to attain it?