Sunday, 28 March 2010

The one thing you need to teach your kids

As a child psychologist, I meet mums who tell me their kids have all the latest toys and gadgets yet never seem satisfied.

I also see worn-down teachers in despair at the rising number of pupils with attention problems.

And when I look at the psychology of money, impulsivity and short-termism seem to underpin most financial disasters.

So here’s the one thing you need to teach your kids.

Teach them to wait. To delay gratification. To resist impulse.

Mimic the marshmallow-waving psychologist Mischel - tell them they can have one sweet now, or two if they wait five minutes. Or the whole packet if they wait a week.

Buy now, pay later. Click to purchase. Surf 120 channels. Express delivery. Free upgrade. Loans by phone.

The wholesale commercialization of our society has seduced us into gratifying our impulses immediately. With easy credit, being skint needn’t stop us having what we want now.

And the 24/7 internet means we don’t even have to wait for the shops to open to feed our greed.

Research shows that adults who can transcend impulsive urges are more likely to be high achievers. They’re the ones who’ll ride the ups and downs of the stock market instead of over-reacting to every blip. They’ll be the slow-burners, the savers with long-term plans and flourishing investments, quietly gloating over the live-it-up splurgers. And with kids, as Mischel found, those who can sit it out for the two sweets turn out to have higher IQs.

So I’m convinced that if you nurture children’s ability to delay gratification, they’ll do better in all walks of life.

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