Building a safe and trusting relationship with children is one of the most important things we can do as parents and care providers to encourage children to explore and learn. By keeping our word, and following through on what we say to children, we can establish an environment of healthy curiosity and growth.
According to Melissa Koenig, “Children as young as preschool age use the same characteristics that a rational adult would use when judging the reliability of an information source. Even at 24 months kids can ‘keep track’ of the reliability of speakers.” There are a number of benefits when adults follow through on our words, and show children that we mean what we say. Following through on small day-to-day acts builds trust for the future. When we teach children to believe our words and that we will follow through with action, we teach honesty, respect, and integrity. When children trust and respect the adults in their lives, they are more capable of learning, building strong relationships, and valuing themselves as well as others.
Writer Fred Lee has a few brief and precise suggestions on how to accomplish this for parents and care providers:
- Keep your promises – It works both ways. If you promise your children something and then decide it’s either too much of a hassle or it doesn’t matter enough for you or your children to care, think again. Kids are smart, and they remember. Breaking your word, besides being unfair and dishonorable, will only lead to resentment and distrust.
- Stay true to your word, and don’t back down – once you begin to let undesirable behavior go without consequences, you establish a precedent that is that much harder to change.
- Be consistent – Children need consistency in their lives, especially when it comes to rules and guidelines. Changing things on a whim or out of guilt not only confuses them, but sends a mixed message that opens the door for them to take advantage of you.
- Avoid taking the easy way out – Even though life is so much simpler if you just do it yourself, as opposed to hounding your kids to do it, it is important that they understand the consequences of going against your wishes.
- Don’t mistake popularity for love – It’s something we all know, but your job as a parent is not to be their best friend. Your decisions may make you unpopular, but stick to them. You’re older and a little wiser, and doing what’s best for them isn’t always about making them happy.
- Lead by example – Show them that the things you expect from them are the same as what you expect from yourself. This applies to not only work habits, but to manners and behavior, as well.
In the end, it boils down to an issue of respect. Once your children understand that you mean what you say, they will be less likely to question or manipulate you since they know there will be consequences. (The Importance of Following Through)
To put into perspective the importance of keeping your word to children, consider how trust and integrity are built in your adult life. “…Always be prepared to keep your word to others, as they’re a reflection of your intentions and integrity…If you say you’re going to do something, then you’d best follow through as people will judge you not only on what you say, but on what you do. If you accomplish what you say you’re going to do, then your words hold power in the future – you gain the trust of others…Conversely, if you’re constantly saying you’re going to do something and not follow through, your words will eventually hold a negative symbolism of your integrity…In other words – you lose the trust of others.” (Erika Slater)
Parents and early education teachers have the opportunity and responsibility to model and teach integrity and honesty to our young learners. When we don’t keep our word, even once, we teach our children that we are liars. When we “mean what we say, and say what we mean,” children learn they are important, valuable, respected, and safe. Here at Peace of Mind we are always looking for those quiet “teachable moments,” and believe that modeling integrity and honesty by keeping our word with children every time we speak is one of our greatest teaching tools.