How to teach your child to keep promises

The right approach, according to Einat Natan, will help to grow not an obedient and justified someone’s expectations, but an independent, strong, purposeful person, able to be responsible for his actions.

In Russian, her book “The Meaning of My Life. What kind of parent do I want to be and what kind of children do I want to raise” was published by the MIF publishing house. Lifehacker publishes chapter 21 on agreements with a child.


I spent my summer holidays in Haifa. Once I was playing in the sandbox with a friend, the same seven-year-old girl. We left the sandbox and headed for the swings, and then I noticed that my mother’s wedding ring was missing. It must have slipped off my baby finger into the sand, as if laughing at a promise I had made to myself two hours earlier: “Keep an eye on the ring, don’t take it outside, leave it on the nightstand next to my mother’s bed every time I finish with him to play . Remember that mom values this ring very much.

Promise broken. I, a second-grader, got down on all fours and began to work with my hands, like small excavators. My heart was pounding, my chin was trembling, and the grains of sand did not want to obey me. The friend soon left home. I, too, had to go home and confess to my mother that I had lost her wedding ring.

We want to raise children who understand that promises and agreements must be kept, but how many times a day do we make agreements with our children that are then broken? It usually starts with our no, followed immediately by grueling negotiations. And we, as if forgetting why we answered “no” at first, offer the child a compromise: “I’ll give you one more candy if you promise that you won’t ask for sweets tomorrow”, “You can watch TV now if you promise that you will wake up on time” . A few days ago, I myself heard how a mother agreed with her son on the playground: she would allow him to climb a high hill if he promised that he would not fall.

Can a four-year-old child make a promise that relates to the future, especially if he has to give up his desires at this moment in the future?

And if a child does not fulfill the contract concluded at the moment when he was ready to sell mom and dad for another chocolate bar , how does this characterize him? And what can be said about us, parents, and our rules, if every time, faced with a manifestation of discontent from the child, we make concessions and agree to replace our decision with an agreement that will provide us with a little peace in the next five minutes? We want our children to understand the importance and value of agreements, but is it possible to avoid the classic traps that only convince our children that they cannot be relied upon?

The point of concluding an agreement with the child is that the parent makes a slight indulgence in relation to any rule (the number of sweets, watching cartoons, time for entertainment, daily routine, and so on), and the child, in turn, confirms the agreement and makes a promise, thus showing that he, too, is compromising. The parent gives the child independence, and the child shows responsibility. This is the essence of the conflict between parents and children, which reaches its peak in adolescence: children demand independence, but forget about responsibility, while parents, on the contrary, demand responsibility, but forget about independence .

Before children become teenagers, they go through infancy and childhood – the so-called tender age – and when we are dealing with something tender, care must be taken not to crush the tender creature.

Children do not know how to think in terms of the past, present and future, so they are not able to build serious agreements.

When sweets, a gift, a gadget, or any other pleasure is at stake, children will speak to us in the language of agreements, but will not be able to comply with them on an emotional level. We must fulfill these agreements for the sake of our children, because we agreed. No need to scold children, just remind them: a deal is a deal.

To teach children to fulfill agreements, it is necessary to understand what skills are required for this. For example: responsibility, the ability to restrain oneself, to compromise, the willingness to delay receiving rewards, the ability to put oneself in the place of another person. Before you know for yourself if your child has these qualities, ask yourself what is the likelihood that he will be able to keep the agreement. The child will agree to fulfill an agreement that will deprive him of something very desirable if you prove to him that he has all the qualities necessary for this, provide powerful positive reinforcement and convince him that the game is worth the candle. Each time, noticing even a slight hint of the manifestation of these qualities, tell the child that he is very responsible, that he has demonstrated the strength of his character, that you trust him. After all, our children so rarely hear that they can be relied upon, that we trust them, but these words have a huge impact on their ability to trust themselves.

Of course, it is best to set a personal example for children: not to explain, but to show.

Start with small arrangements, when only you will pay. Promise to take the child to the pool, or buy him a little surprise, or return home before it’s too late. Seal the contract with a handshake, as if the child also takes on some part of the obligations. And fulfill the contract. On the way to the pool, tell your child how glad you are that you made this agreement, because in fact you didn’t really want to go to the pool, but thanks to your agreement you are going there together. Discuss with your child that in life it is not always convenient to keep agreements, but it is very important to do this, because the result has its own value, often more significant than comfort or pleasure.

When you feel that the child is ready to practice, offer him an agreement on something specific. For example: “I’ll let you watch the show, but right after we take a bath.” And when the child starts protesting, crying , getting irritated or trying to make a new agreement, just take him to the bathroom. Don’t get angry, don’t tell him, “You can’t be trusted.” Help him take a bath with empathy and persistence at the same time. When you’re done with your water routine, even if things don’t go too smoothly, wrap your baby in a towel and whisper to him how great it is that he’s done his part of the deal and let you give him a bath.

Every time you realize that a child makes a promise only because he wants something badly, but tomorrow or a week later, when you come for your part of the deal, he will not be able to fulfill his obligation (because young children do not have enough abstract thinking, the main thing for them is here and now), decide for yourself whether you are ready to provide a loan to a borrower who has no money.

Stay firm if keeping an agreement is important to you, and give in if breaking an agreement is not so critical.

When our children shake hands with us, thus sealing the contract, they sincerely want to keep their word and are determined. We do the same thing when we say to ourselves: “I’m going on a diet from tomorrow” or “I won’t be angry at the children anymore for taking so long to get together in the morning.” We don’t always keep even the promises we make to ourselves, and our children don’t always keep their promises either. Such is human nature.

Einat Nathan is well versed in the psychology of children and knows exactly how to solve problems that are familiar to every parent. She wisely and calmly explains how to listen to children and how to talk to them, how to care, but not limit, how to respond to pain, anger and tears, how to survive bullying and more. Her book will become a support for every parent, teach them to show more patience, to remain calm in an era of high expectations, to appreciate and accept each child as an individual.

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