When it comes to teaching kids about healthy money habits, there are few lessons more important than being able to defer gratification.
By helping kids learn to put off what they want right now and save instead, they’ll be better equipped with the skills to be financially secure adults.
While it is possible to help kids have a money-saving mindset by teaching them to delay gratification, it’s a lesson that can take time and effort to learn. Being patient rarely comes naturally and putting off what we want now, to have a better future, can feel like a painful task to young minds and adults alike. But like many things, when it comes to delaying gratification, practice makes perfect.
Here are some fun games, incentives and activities to help kids develop this skill at different ages:
Fun for toddlers
Baking can be a great way to introduce toddlers to the idea that waiting for a reward is worth it. Baking by its very nature is a great lesson in delayed gratification. When baking you patiently measure and mix the ingredients, wait for the cake to bake and then can’t consume it until it has cooled down. It’s a great way to start the learning process of waiting now for a reward in the future.
Money game for kids 5-10 years old
Chocolate coins can be a fun way to start applying the concept of delayed gratification to money in real life. Firstly, give your child a few chocolate coins. Then, let your child know that if they hold out from eating them, they will be rewarded with more gold coins. They can also trade in those chocolate coins for something else they’d like - a trip to the park, a new toy, or actual money.
Feel free to swap out chocolate coins for any treat that your kids love. Also note, it’s a good idea to set an appropriate amount of time for them to wait for the reward based on their age - the younger they are, the shorter the wait for the reward. For example, a day for a pre-schooler versus a month for a teenager.
Strategy for pre-teens and teens
If your child receives pocket money, and they want to buy something impulsively on a trip to the shopping centre, you might like to try this:
- let them know they can buy the item now with their pocket money, or…
- if they wait a few weeks (and earn more pocket money in the meantime), you’ll match what they save and they’ll be able to buy more.
Form a healthy habit for life
Like training a muscle, the ability to delay gratification strengthens with repetition. The more a child experiences a reward for exercising self-control, the more likely they are to do it. Parents can teach this critical life skill by being consistent with the reward. If your child trusts the outcome, they’ll be more willing to practise the skill.
With some games, incentives, fun and time, kids will understand that waiting for gratification is worth it and they do in fact have the capability to wait. And that’s an essential money skill for life.
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