Do you still remember something you really looked forward to as a child? Your first Game Boy? Your best friend’s birthday party? And what happened once the event and all the anticipation had passed? Of course you were glad that you could finally play with your Game Boy or go to the party, but the sense of anticipation was gone and you couldn’t get it back – and yet in itself, it was a really nice feeling.
Is the wish itself more fulfilling than its actual fulfillment?
The idea of waiting for something just isn’t in tune with the modern world. If our train is late, it’s a problem. And if we don’t know how late, it’s even worse. It’s easier to be patient if we at least know for how long we have to be patient. Children also find it difficult to wait for certain things. “How much longer?... and now, how much longer?” But waiting, or temporarily foregoing something, can have very positive consequences. Psychologists call this “deferred gratification.”
Tip: Celebrate the anticipation of an event with your child by counting off the days on a “waiting calendar” – just like you do with an Advent calendar. A calendar is an ideal way to give your child a sense of how time passes.
When waiting is worthwhile
Deferred gratification means that I go without something today to enjoy a bigger reward at a later date. Experiments have shown that those children who were able to wait for the bigger reward did better in school years later. This was because they were able to sacrifice their leisure time in order to study hard and get better grades. But how can you help your child learn to wait?
Tip: Fill a jar with marbles and let your child remove one a day, until the long-awaited day arrives and the jar is empty. This will teach your child about how time passes. You could also draw a picture together of the event you’re anticipating, so that your child can show you how they imagine the event. This is a great way to get them excited about an upcoming event.
Back to the future
Time is an abstract concept and we have to learn how to get to grips with it. The conscious experience of a time period can help. For this, it’s important to teach your child about days, weeks, months and years – the easiest way to illustrate these periods of time is with a calendar or a clock. Talk to your child about what it feels like to look forward to something. Because sometimes the anticipation of something can be better than the thing itself. And whether you’re a child or an adult, life’s a lot more enjoyable when you have something to look forward to.
Tip: Tell your child about your own wishes and what you look forward to. Make it clear that even adults can’t have everything they want right away. Children find it easier to wait when they know that mom and dad also don’t get everything they want right away.
UBS’s educational principles
This article was written in collaboration with educator Marianne Heller, who has years of experience in teaching financial education and debt prevention programs for children and young people.