October 2014 Parenting Tip: Pre-Promises

This month’s parenting tip is one that I have learned along the way on my journey to mastering motherhood.  This vital tidbit will save you the headache that pre-promising will cause your family.  Trust me…I have been there.

The clock reads 5:30 and the night is going smoothly for you.  The kids have been excellent all day and as a reward, you would love to spend some extra time after baths playing their favorite board game.  You share the good news with your offspring and your six year old is so excited that he keeps asking when it is going to be time to play.  At bath time, one of your kids pushes the other, causing him to slip and get a bloody lip.  Your oldest is upset about the lack of new pajamas in her closet and claims you never buy her anything.  You of course no longer have any desire to sit down with your kids and play that board game, but instead can see a nice, hot bath, accompanied by a cold glass of white wine, in your near future.

One of your kids did not do anything wrong but you are so irritated by this display of bad behavior, you deliver the news that board game night has been cancelled.  You are now being called a liar and someone who breaks promises.  You forget to put in the ever so important clause about the pre-requisite good behavior?  Oops.


You are driving the kids home from school and you decide you missed them so much that you want to take them to get ice-cream after dinner.  You usually finish eating by 6:00PM but tonight you had a work call come in unexpectedly and dinner had to be pushed back.  It is now almost 8:00PM.  The baby is now cranky and rubbing his eyes, you are exhausted and your son still hasn’t finished his book report, of course due tomorrow.  The last thing you want to do now is load up the kids and take them out for ice-cream, but you already put the idea out there.  You tell them it is too late and you are now being called a liar and someone who breaks promises.  Everyone is mad at you and you feel like the world’s worst parent but an ice cream outing at 8:00 is crazy, especially on a school night.


I could go on and on but hopefully you get the point.  When you tell your kids you are going to do something and you don’t do it, it’s a betrayal to them.  Instead of realizing there are sensible reasons for the change in plans, your children only focus on the fact you didn’t follow through and have let them down.

Even when you try to stick to a set schedule, as a parent, you know that things can change in an instant.  What you thought you wanted to accomplish at 3:00PM is often not what you want to do at 6:00PM.  To avoid disappointment in your house, if you are not sure you are going to deliver on your commitment, do not mention it ahead of time.



It’s important to be sensitive to a child’s emotions and think like they think.

Children do not understand certain elements that parents view as obvious.  We know there are only so many hours in a day.  We know that we cannot please everyone and do everything the family wants to pull off in a given day.  If the clock says 2:30PM, kids do not understand that you cannot make a movie that starts at 2:30, in a theatre that is 15 minutes away.  In a child’s world, everything is possible, even though we know that not to be the case.

Choose your words wisely:

Be careful not to use the “p” word when talking about planning your day with the kiddos.  If you “promise” by definition, you have to deliver.  You are better off using “maybe” or “if you  behave well” or “if we have the time” or “let’s see how the day unfolds”.  These phrases give you an out so no one can say you broke your “promise”.  As a parent, it is important to practice what you preach, so if you actually promised something and went back on your word, what message does that send to your children?

Do not pre-promise:

It is better for your children to be pleasantly surprised than dreadfully disappointed.  If you do not say it out loud, it never existed.  When things change, you will not be letting your kids down, dealing with meltdowns, being called a liar, or trying to explain an adult situation to a child.  This is not an easy task and it takes a bit of training on your part.  What parent doesn’t want to get their kids excited to go to a fun activity, whether it’s ice cream or staying up late and playing a board game or watching a movie?  We all do, but life happens, schedules change in an instant and we need to adjust our day.

MH900178845Oops…I pre-promised…explain why the plans have changed and acknowledge your child’s dismay:

Let your child know nothing would make you happier than seeing them happy, but unfortunately, the plans no longer make sense for your family.  Kids do not think about if you may be tired.  They have no concept of how far a destination may be or the ability to grasp the juggling of different schedules.  It is important we teach them the “why” and “why not” of our decisions.  Point out the positive things you did together instead during the day and shift the focus away from what you did not get to do.

Know when to be selfless versus selfish:

It is okay to not be supermom every day, whatever your definition of supermom is.  We cannot go everywhere, do everything and grant every wish our child has.

Sure, we all have to take time for ourselves but ask yourself if  “you” time would be better spent as “family” time.  If you planned on going to the park and do not want to go any more because your favorite show is on, DVR it and watch it when the kids go to sleep.  If you planned on going to the park but have been running around all day buying birthday supplies for your child followed by hosting a three kid playdate, then you earned the right to be selfish.


Trust me when I tell you these tips will change your life.  I know from experience.  While it does take a bit of practice to hold your thoughts in about a possible exciting activity planned for your kids, in the end, everyone will be better off.