One thing many children hate more than any soggy vegetable is waiting for things. Nobody really loves waiting, but children especially tend to lack patience. You may notice how fast their attention span dwindles during a supermarket trip before a party and you’ve probably suffered the occasional tantrum when they can’t have their dessert before dinner. “You can have it when we get home” or “after dinner” hardly ever translates well for a child and the episode usually ends with “but I want it now.” More than most other age groups, children want instant gratification.

Children like instant reward and sometimes find it difficult to link consequences to their actions. Delayed gratification exercises can help with this. Routinely making your child wait a certain amount of time before getting that candy bar or opening that new toy can train their patience. This can get them used to the inevitable circumstance where they will have to wait and they won’t have everything just when they want it. Delayed gratification is a simple boundary mechanism. You might like to consider reminding your child that their reward is in their future and it will come in due time. Perhaps even make a game of training their patience; “Can we last out five minutes? Let’s try!”. These tactics are great for the little things, but children’s need for instant gratification can lead to difficulties with learning how to take care of themselves.

This can be a big problem when trying to teach children about dental hygiene. Getting a child excited about hygiene can be difficult for two very big reasons. The first – it’s not exactly interesting or fun.  Washing your hair, brushing your teeth, taking a bath – these things can be tedious with little or no immediate reward unless you put in some reframing time, and this is difficult enough for adults, let alone children. Having no cavities at a checkup provides little incentive for a child. Regardless, we all know that healthy practices, although boring on the face of it, are important. Your child needs to adopt a healthy lifestyle without instruction, even before they may be cognitively ready to do so.

The key to getting children excited about their healthy practices is a matter of finding a way to give an instant reward; a small incentive for completing a task can make a difference. Little toys, a fun day trip or even just plenty of praise can be an effective way to encourage them. In due course your child will be motivated enough by their health alone but until then, they’ll need lots of positive encouragement.