Maybe you know this scenario: you can’t stop today but your child wants to make sure they don’t miss out on an opportunity for fun, “We can go there the next time? Do you promise?” You already feel guilty but a two-bit carnival is not high on your list of priorities and it looks so unsanitary, you just know it will be forgotten, “Sure we will, I promise!”
Promises are a dream come true for young children and they will carry that dream until the promise is fulfilled. The next time this child rides past this carnival— no matter how dirty it looks— they will expect to stop and realize those dreams.
A lesson was taught to me very early on by a family member who tossed out promises like bread crumbs to a gaggle of geese. It wasn’t so much him but the crushed looks on the faces of his children that stuck in my mind. Even after many disappointments and broken promises those sweet little kids still held out hope that this would be the time the promises would be kept and the dreams would come true.
Young children are very resilient; they are trusting by nature and quick to forgive so they will get over the broken promise. The problem is later on— when they are teenagers and you need to have a strong bond with them. Picture this, the child is seventeen and is taking dad’s car out for the first time. Dad runs down the list, “You have your license, got the cell phone in case you need help and money for gas, right? No friends in the car, right?” The teenager responds, “Oh right, sure thing, Dad.” Like me, you know this teen is going a few blocks over where several friends are waiting.
A promise might be a way to avoid temporarily disappointing children but it chips away at a parent’s credibility. After a time, kids come to expect disappointment and stop believing anything the parent says. Telling the truth is always the best option at every age. No matter what the situation is, there is an age appropriate way to break bad news to children. As an example; “The man at the carnival has very dirty hands so we can’t stop there. If you would like, we may plan a trip for the summer to a cleaner place.” The child will still be disappointed but will understand why and can look forward to a visit to a better kept, safer amusement for the summer. The child will grow up knowing the parent to be truthful and honest.