The Marshmallow Test

The Marshmallow Test

Stanford University researchers discovered that one of the best predictors of success in school and life is a child’s ability to delay gratification and wait 15 whole minutes to eat a marshmallow.

This video below of young children trying like the dickens to overcome the urge to eat a marshmallow is very funny, and also does a pretty good job, I think, of capturing the essence of what it is to be a kid.

This video of the Marshmallow Test also reminded me that delaying gratification is a huge part of being an observant Jewish child.
Eema, I wanna hamburger!
Sorry, honey, the hamburgers here aren’t kosher.
Eema, I want that skirt!
Sorry, cutie, that skirt’s not long enough.
Eema, I want to draw in my coloring book!
Sorry, sweety, it’s Shabbat.

The Marshmallow Test is a great reminder that occasionally not giving our kids what they want doesn’t mean we are depriving them. In fact, this research shows that sometimes saying “No!” is the greatest gift we can give our children: the life-long gift of self control.

Photo courtesy of user Slice of Chic


  1. When I saw that clip, it made me very uncomfortable. I felt so bad for those kids. 15 minutes is a very long time for a child that age, and the experiment was totally not age appropriate. Especially when the marshmellows were staring them in the face, and there was absolutely no other distraction in the room.
    The way the experiment was done, it doesn’t proove a thing. Which adult can wait 15 minutes for something he wants? Just see people downloading at the computer, or people standing in line for something. Most adults can’t wait, even if they’re considered successful. (Actually, maybe it’s the “aggressive” “successful” ones who have the most trouble waiting.)

    • I hear your point, but yet there was no shame or blame, and even the ones who could not defer, got a marshmallow. There was no negativity with this, and this is a life lesson which is very important. I wish I knew which of the 2 styles I would have been.

  2. I have such trouble with this one!! My daughter has a “new” dress and I wanted to save it for Pesach. She saw it, so I let her wear it for one day and then told her to put it away for Pesach. She said noooo that’s way too long, so I said okay, we can wear it for Shabbos. Now she keeps asking, “how many more days till Shabbos? I can’t wait that long!” Tell me again – what is so good about making a kid wait, it’s such torture for me AND her!

  3. This experiment does NOT prove that saying NO can help a child. It does not say that No! is the greatest gift we can give our children.
    NO does not give them self-control.
    Some children are emotionally intelligent enough that they have self-control, parents can help build their children’ s emotional intelligence.
    Especially if it is very frustrating for the child, sometimes it can really disturb a child’s self esteem when not done in the right way.
    This experiment – which was directed for 4 year old kids I think only SHOWS that the children who were able to delay self-gratification ended up being more successful adults. Probably because they actually were smarter and more intelligent; probably because they were more mature.
    Nobody said No to them, they said No to themselves, most probably because they were really loved and felt secure enough.

  4. I see all of the comments here point in the same direction. I really enjoyed this and found that it has given me the push to be consistent with my children! I don’t think it is trying to make us say No more, but to be consistent with our boundaries. In the last few days, whenever I’ve considered giving in to whining and nagging, I’ve thought about this and been able to stick to my gun, remembering that giving in to them will teach them that they NEED what they think they want now and I agree that they can’t wait.

  5. JewishMom

    The reason I loved this research so much is because it reminded me of a story my mother in law once told me about my kids. A few years back, my MIL took my kids to Niagara Falls, and she noticed that most of the other children there were whining for their parents to buy them this and that and more of this and more of that. But my girls, in contrast, didn’t ask for anything, and were genuinely thrilled with the few modest gifts my MIL had bought them. My MIL was amazed by the fact that my girls had such self-control, relative to their secular N. American counterparts.

    And my non-religious MIL suggested that part of that self control comes from the fact that as religious kids, my children are used to delaying gratification. There are things they want that they CANNOT have– because they are not kosher, or aren’t modest, or aren’t suitable for an Orthodox Jew.

    On the other hand, I once heard from my parenting teacher that we as parents should say “yes” as much as possible. If you can give something your child requests without too much difficulty or compromise of your values, then give it. But when you must say “No”- be firm about it. Because it is a good and healthy thing for kids to hear “No” occasionally. A good, firm “No” teaches our children a invaluable life skill called self control.

  6. My 4 year old watched this with me and we talked about what was going on. At the end she says, “Do we have any marshmellows?” When I said no, she said, “Can we put it on the list and get some next time?!”

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