How to Keep Promises You Make to Your Children


What happens when a promise made by an adult to a child is kept? The child intuitively knows the adult has told the truth.

A child cannot always grasp that a kept promise has meant a sacrifice of time and money, or an exertion of effort and ability. A child may not be familiar with the concepts of cost, time, or obligation.

A child’s self-esteem and confidence are ultimately only as good as the “truth” he or she perceives in the world. The child needs facts, solid answers, a truthful description of an adult’s feelings, and fixed boundaries for his or her behavior. The child needs to be able to differentiate between lie and truth, if he or she is ever to differentiate among a long list of possibilities, or know the difference between reality and fantasy. To identify that which is true and real, a child needs valid, concrete evidence.

Keep Promises

A kept promise is an incident of truth to a child. The kept promise says, “Daddy said this, and he did it. What he says to me is true.” Or, “Mommy promised me we would go, and we went. I can trust Mommy to tell me other things, and they will be true too.”

A kept promise is also a great act of love and care. That’s because the thing promised to a child is almost always perceived as a good gift. “I promise you we’ll go to the park on Saturday,” says a parent. Going to the park together is a gift of time and love. A child may not be able to define it in those terms, but he or she feels it in that way. Things promised are generally “good things.” They are presents.

A kept promise says to a child, “I value our relation­ship. I love you enough to make the effort to do what I’ve told you I’m going to do.” What about the unkept promise? An unkept promise is perceived by the child as an example of lie-telling. It’s perceived as an example of love withheld.

“But what about those times when I just can’t follow through on a promise?” you ask.

Tell your child that you are sorry you’ve disappointed him or her. Don’t make up an excuse. Don’t discount the importance of the promise. Ask your child, sin­cerely, to forgive you for not keeping your promise.

A child will understand and forgive the occasional unkept promise. A pattern of broken promises, how­ever, is not so easily forgiven or forgotten.

Promises are best limited to the concrete realm, places you’ll go, things you’ll do, items you’ll buy, or events you’ll experience. A child can readily under­stand, anticipate, and appreciate such promises when kept.

Don’t promise your child changes in your own behav­ior, such as, “Baby, I promise you I’m going to stop drinking.” Or, “Darling, I promise you I’ll never lie to you again.” There’s too big a chance you won’t be able to keep such a promise. Don’t compound your lack of good behavior or self-control with what your child will perceive to be a lie and an act of love withheld.

The best rule for promises: If you don’t intend to make a one-hundred percent effort to keep a promise, don’t make it. It’s better not to make any promises than to make them and break them. Corollary rule: If you’ve already made a promise and see that you aren’t going to be able to keep it, admit it early. If at all possible pro­vide an alternative.

Kept promises put a child on sure ground. The child grows with an understanding of what and whom can be trusted. Your child’s estimation of his or her own value goes up. Unkept promises whittle away at a child’s self-esteem and self-confidence.

If you are going to err, err on the side of making too few promises and keeping them, than making too many promises and failing to follow through.

Filed Under: Family & Relationships

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About the Author: Roberta Southworth is a psychiatrist by profession. She likes to help out people by writing informative tips on how people can to solve their family and relationship issues. She is currently staying in Ireland. She has 5 years of couple counseling experience.

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