Breaking Promises to Your Children
Key Points
  • You should never make a promise you cannot keep; breaking promises creates a lack of trust. If a broken promise is unavoidable, then make sure you offer an explanation.
  • If you do break a promise an explanation helps your child realize he or she is not the reason for the broken promise and there is something that just was unavoidable. Also, an apology does not hurt. An apology shows your child you respect him or her.
  • Do not use "maybe" as a catch-all phase as a way of escaping breaking a promise. You are building up your child’s hopes that "maybe" you will do something but you are still letting your child down and disappointing him or her when you do not do as you said you "might".

Making promises that can not be kept can occur without even realizing it, so try to be careful about what you say in front of your child at all times. Children during this vulnerable stage are much more sensitive and can interpret what you say as having a lot more meaning than it actually does. Children tend to over-analyze words and expressions. Pick and chose your sensitive subjects and be sure to craft your words carefully before you actually say them.

A broken promise creates a lack of trust and enhances the unpredictable feelings that your child is experiencing. All promises that are made must be kept in order to build trust, comfort, stability and security. If for some reason you must break a promise, you should be ready to provide a full explanation to your child, and make sure you apologize for your actions. Do all you can to reinforce that you are not breaking the promise because of him or her or something he or she did and do everything you can to make it up at a later date.

If the other parent is continuously breaking promises, you should do your best to make your child understand that it is not his or her fault. Many children believe that they are the reason a parent breaks promises. It is very difficult to control what another parent does or doesn't promise, so once again devote most of your energy towards your child, and minimal on the other parent's problem. Be sure to let the other parent know of the harm he or she is causing your child, but do not show anger or aggression, rather take that energy and devote it to making your child feel better about himself or herself.

Some parents use the "open ended" solution, described as follows; when you avoid making a promise by continuously adding "maybe". For example: saying "maybe" we will go to the park on Saturday or "maybe you can get a new pair of roller-skates". If you find this as your escape to making promises, it is better not to make any promises at all. These open ended promises will only build your child's expectations, to potentially being let down over and over again.

A common problematic broken promise is one parent defaulting on a scheduled visitation time. It is inevitable that this will happen on occasion, due to unforeseen circumstances, like a change in a work schedule, but if it begins to happen on a regular basis you have a problem that really needs to be addressed with special attention. Another very common and most traumatic broken promise is the "We are trying to work things out so we can be a family again" explanation. You may not see this as a promise, but as mentioned before, your child will read deeply into what you say and listen only to what he or she desires to.

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