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We make promises for all sorts of reasons; we want to make someone happy, we are afraid of disappointing them or, as can often be the way with kids, to keep the peace. Making promises is usually done with genuine intentions.

However, it’s all too easy to make a promise in haste, and completely forget about it.  Guaranteed though – when you make a promise to kids, they will remember it. Not only that, they remember all the times a promise was made – and then broken.

The truth behind broken promises

Sometimes, it’s just life that plans change and while you know the reasons behind having to break a promise, children don’t really get it. Upon hearing that the very thing they have been so excited about isn’t going to happen, they experience intense disappointment and feel very let down. They’ve talked about it with their friends, and more than likely it’s been a genuine distraction from working or paying attention at school. What is seemingly a small thing to us as adults, is a very big deal to children. As such, it’s understandable then, that they can react in a very emotional way.

Making a promise is about trust. When a promise is broken, that trust is too and, if frequently repeated, can impact on your integrity. If promises are repeatedly broken, children quickly learn to mistrust these promises – and you. They also learn it’s OK to break promises that they make – they see there is no value in keeping your word.

Frequent exposure to broken promises can lead children to become quite cynical; if children can’t trust the little things, then it erodes their trust in the big things. If we keep our promises, we are trustworthy – if we break them, we are not. How many times has someone broken promises to you? Do you believe them when you make yet another promise? No, probably not, and neither do children.

So, here are a few tips about promises – and how to keep them.

  1. write it down – use a Reminder planner

On the resources page of the website, you can download for FREE a Reminder Planner. Next time you make a promise, either you or your child write it up on the planner so it doesn’t get forgotten.

  1. It’s OK to Say no.

Your children love you – they don’t always need to like you. When you feel that urge to make a promise to win approval – stop yourself. Making a meaningless promise to keep the peace, that you know isn’t actually helpful adds to parents feeling disempowered in the long run. It’s OK to say no.

  1. Explain the situation calmly

If plans change, calmly explain the situation. Acknowledge their disappointment and apologise genuinely for having to break a promise. Explain that you don’t like having to do it, yet this is an exception. Tell them that you were really looking forward to spending quality time with them too – kids love to hear that their parents want to be with them. You can’t protect your children from disappointment at every turn – they need to feel and experience disappointment so they can manage it and learn to be resilient.

  1. Acknowledge and respect their disappointment

Children need to know that you recognise and acknowledge their feelings. Naturally, they are going to be disappointed, so give them a bit of space to manage their emotions. This is how they learn to be resilient, pick themselves up, and move on.

  1. Guilt treats – don’t do it

Do not fall into the trap of showering them with false promises or buying them things to make up for your feeling guilty about disappointing them–this is a real no-no. You’ve explained the situation, you’ve made it clear you’re disappointed too, you’ve explained that this is the way it goes sometimes and it’s out of your control, you’ve made another date – that’s all that needs to happen. You don’t need to make it up for them or “buy” their approval or love.

  1. Make another date

Make another date – plan in together a date and time you are confident can be stuck to. Use the free downloadable reminder planner or pop a reminder in your phone.

And finally…

If you find yourself making – and breaking – too many promises, simply stop altogether. Go cold turkey for a few weeks and notice the impact that has on you, your own self-esteem and your relationship with your children and others. Simply say, “You know what, I’ll do what I can but right now I’m just not into making promises.” It’s interesting to note that more than likely people will have more respect for you as promises can be a real people pleasing tool. Try it – and let me know how you got on!