Kids are forgetful, right? Every parent knows the struggle of getting kids to keep crucial facts and details in their head. For some reason your comment that you’re interested in getting an animal is remembered for years, but your request that they do the dishes is forgotten as soon as they finish their meal and hear their phone going off.
It’s not unusual for parents to renege on promises to their kids. Sometimes, you can’t keep a promise because circumstances change. Sometimes you regret making the promise, which you only agreed to in a moment of weakness and hope they’ll forget about. But kids aren’t as forgetful as we hope they are, and breaking a promise here and there adds up psychologically during their development.
No, little Timmy will not be permanently traumatized if you can’t get him the exact model bike he wanted for Christmas that you promised you’d get but couldn’t find. But maybe he will learn, instinctively, not to believe you until he sees it happening. Maybe he’ll learn to break promises and lie about his intentions too. Kids learn everything from you - including your flaws. If you want to instill respect, integrity and follow-through, you should be demonstrating it too. Here’s why you should make the effort to always keep promises you make to your kids.
It teaches your kids to stay honest
Kids are just starting to gain an understanding of the world, including what makes something right and what makes something wrong. When you break a promise, you might see it as an unfortunate circumstance of life - but your kid may see it differently. A broken promise - or multiple broken promises - can begin to resemble lies more than anything else. Children learn from broken promises that things they say don’t always have to be true. They learn that they can agree to something in order to please somebody or reduce pressure on themselves, then retreat from it later.
When you don’t make the effort to keep your promises, “I promise” becomes the most common lie you tell. You don’t want your children to learn to lie regularly. Leading by example and keeping your promises teaches them to learn to trust things you say, rather than assume you may not always be telling the truth, even about something as simple as your intention to follow through on a visit to the park.
It builds trust in your relationship
When you keep your promises to your child, it allows them to know that they can rely on you, and that enables them to trust you fully. Children learn from a very young age to depend on their parents, and part of that comes from feeling like their needs and requests are being met. If you consistently back out of promises that you’ve made, even after giving them a diamond tennis bracelet, along with learning to lie, they’ll also learn not to trust you in general.
Kids can feel betrayed and hurt when promises are broken, and particularly hurt when their parents don’t seem to care that they’ve broken promises. It discourages communication and teaches them to rely on others rather than you for commitments. On the other hand, maintaining promises and acknowledging the hurt you cause when you break them shows your child that you do care about their expectations, and that you will be a reliable resource.
It teaches your child self-respect
Children who feel they are lied to regularly can learn to accept being lied to as a part of life. Breaking promises can make your child feel as though promises made to them in general are unimportant. After all, if even their parent can’t commit to doing something for them, who will? Children can internalize deeply negative thoughts about themselves based on how you treat them. Dismissing their desires and your promises can make your child feel invisible and irrelevant to you. As a result, they may develop low self-esteem and have problems emotionally connecting to other friends.
On the other hand, a child who’s made to feel like the things she says matters, and like people do have an obligation to keep their promises to her, is going to feel as though she is respected and heard by others. It empowers her to speak up, because she knows it may get satisfactory results, and she can more easily form bonds with others. Breaking a promise, especially for something trivial, can feel like no big deal to a parent. But it matters very much to the children whose promises are not being kept. Make an effort to do what you say, and your kids will learn to do the same.