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!