Saying No to my Daughter: Teaching Delayed Gratification

Nasreen and her Special Easter Balloon

My daughter loves Helium balloons. There is just something wonderful and magical  about their bright colors and ability to fly that excites her so much. Whenever we would go into the grocery store she would see the helium balloons floating in the air and would get so excited! One day she asked, ” Mommy can I have a balloon”. She was so sweet and the balloon was only a couple of dollars. I thought to myself this would make her happy and it is something that I can afford. Why not get her that balloon. Then I remembered a study that I had read back in college about the effect of teaching delayed gratification. Teaching children the value of waiting for something rather than having their every whim and want fulfilled instantly. So I paused for a moment collected my thoughts and answered my smiling hopeful daughter. ” Nasreen today we are at the store shopping for food not for balloons”   Her smile disappeared! I continued, ” Balloons are for special times like birthdays or holidays.” Easter was coming in a few week so I asked her ” Would you like the Easter bunny to bring you a balloon with you basket.” Her smile returned instantly! “Yes” she replied.

For the next few weeks she talked about that balloon, and speculated what kind of balloon the Easter bunny was going to bring her. “Mommy will he bring me a red balloon or one with flowers?” She was so excited. At the grocery store she would look at the balloons and say “Mommy the Easter Bunny is going to bring me a pretty balloon!” She no longer asked me to buy her a balloon while at the store. She even told the store clerk all about her balloon coming from the Easter bunny. On Easter morning she ran from her room saw the helium balloon tied to her basket! She beamed with happiness! She loved that balloon more than anything else in her basket! She had waited for it, counted down the days, and this made it that much more special to her.

You might be thinking to yourself, it was just a balloon! Why make her wait so long?! 

The answer lies in the the Marshmallow Study! 

Here are some exerts from that study, a link to the source has been posted at the end

“In the 1960’s a Stanford University psychology researcher Michael Mischel, demonstrated how important self-discipline is to lifelong success.He started his longitudinal study by offering a group of 4-year-olds one marshmallow, but told them that if they could wait for him to return after running an errand, they could have two marshmallows. The “errand” took about fifteen to twenty minutes. The theory was that those children who could wait would demonstrate that they had the ability to delay gratification and control impulse.

“How important is your child’s ability to delay immediate gratification? (Very important.) Is self-discipline a predictor of a child’s success later in life? (Yes.) Can a child who does not know how to delay immediate gratification be taught this skill? (Absolutely.) About fourteen years later, when the children in the experiment graduated from high school, the Marshmallow Study revealed startling differences between the two groups: the children who waited and did not gobble up the single marshmallow, were more positive, self-motivating, persistent in the face of difficulties, and able to delay gratification in pursuit of their goals. They had developed the habits of successful adults. The habits, the centerpiece of which is delayed gratification, point to more thriving marriages, greater career satisfaction which leads to higher incomes, and better health. On the whole, the preschoolers who were able to wait for two marshmallows, over the course of their lives, have a lower BMI, lower rates of addiction, a lower divorce rate and higher SAT scores.!” (i)

Life is all about delayed gratification, here are just a few examples


Graduating from college is one of my greatest achievements

Many of us spend four years or more in college to reach a professional goal. Lets face it college is hard, we work hard and study hard. We give up free time with our friends and family! Learning new knowledge can be frustrating and difficult. Its alot easier to quit!   We delay our gratification for the hopes of a larger reward in the future! The dream of achieving a goal!

Saving Money

For those that want to buy a house, go on an expensive trip, or buy a new car we all know that you have to save ! You have to cut costs. This may be in the form of decreasing food bills, so eating at home instead of out. This could also mean forgoing the purchase of new clothes or other expenses! Saving money is hard, no one wants to go without the things we enjoy! The rewards can be great! Well worth the sacrifices! Many people in the United States run up credit cards because they do not save money or wait to make a purchase!


Marriage is hard! There are good times but there are hard times as well. The United States has a divorce rate of  of 50%. I honestly believe that alot of divorce is related to individuals inability to see the future good through the difficult situation.

 Life is a series of difficult choices!

Are we willing to forgo something now to get something better at a later time. Will you wait for the second marshmallow or gobble up the one you have now ?

This is an important skill to teach our children. This ability to delay gratification will have lasting effectw on their entire lives. We may have the means and the desire to buy our kids whatever they want, but should we ?

Does it truly make them happy?

What does it teach them about life? 

Is it preparing them for the real world?

I have the means to buy my daughter a balloon every-time we go to the store. I choose to make her wait for a special occasion. I choose to teach her that THINGS are not what make us happy. I teach her that waiting is beneficial, and that it can yield a larger goal. It is hard to tell a child no! They get upset and cause a scene at a store. They may interrupt your chores with their whining. It is easier to give in, to say yes, to bribe them with things!

The reality is that children need to hear no. The world says no, alot! I choose to prepare my child for the future knowing that she can work towards a goal and that it does not need to be immediate.  That waiting can make it that much better! That waiting and working can turn a no into a yes! 


10 thoughts on “Saying No to my Daughter: Teaching Delayed Gratification

  1. This is one of the TRUEST posts I’ve read in a long time. We are working so hard on gettingt his delayed gratification again. We left India and my son’s favorite thing to say was “Let’s go to Aaji’s, she never says no.” He doesn’t ask for expensive things, but they add up into really getting away with a lot!

    I don’t believe an infant can be spoiled, and I don’t believe in delaying hugs or love (oh but sometimes, it would be easier to ignore emotions, but for an infant, they can’t manipulate when they don’t have words!), but for “things” – sure!

    • Kids love to get what they ask for, we all do really. Kids have the unique ability to charm their way into what they want which I cant do lol. I agree I would not withhold love or attention. Love is essential, things are not, things are earned or received with gratitude. My daughter tends to think she’s entitled to stuff because she asked for it, and thats not life.

  2. Excellent post! I totally agree with the benefits of delayed gratification. Learning to wait is so important and makes us appreciate things much more. I remember when I was a kid that I liked having something to look forward to. I didn’t know it then, but it was delayed gratification because I had to do the work in order to make it happen. Great post!

  3. This is the best thing to teach children. I remember in 2013, Ishita was all hanged on the idea of getting a princess scooter, it was May, her birthday was in July, but in the middle of the monsoon, I knew she would not use it so I told her it could be on her letter to Santa. She had no problem with that, and kept asking when Santa would come, she was anticipating the joy her scooter would bring. On Christmas Day she was the happiest girl ever. Later that day we had friends over for Dinner, and she was all proud to show her Santa gift, and after she was out of earshot we told that friend she had been waiting since May for it. He replied with the question : “Why not buy it back then? I mean they are just a couple of thousands bucks right?”
    Yes indeed, we could afford it anytime, but the point is that things in life don’t come free just because we say “I want”. If Ishita doesn’t learn that early, she will struggle in life.

    • I bet waiting for that scooter made her appreciate it so much. I realize why all these heirs in the world are all spoiled brats getting trouble. Not having to wait or god forbid work for anything changes a personality.

  4. Great job of implementing the idea of delayed gratification in a very simple way – wait for the reward. I saw that experiment on CBS’s 60 Mins a few years back, it was so funny to see the kids reactions of the plate of doughnuts.
    I am glad you are teaching your daughter the value of waiting and even working for a reward. instant gratification is turning out some brats who want everything right away.
    Nasreen is a lucky girl to have parents who are raising her so well.

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