Blog: How Can I Get My Kids to Keep Their Word?

Susan Stiffelman

My girls can’t seem to get simple things done without lots of reminders to stay on task. I feel like I am pulling them along instead if leading. Any tools for parents to teach dependability and help kids learn the importance of following through?

Pushing and pulling kids to do things they have to do can be maddening. And as you suggest, it is very important that we raise our children to be true to their word. Here’s my advice:

Talk about trust. Choose a time when you and your girls have been enjoying one another’s company and you’re not trying to get them to do something. Bring up the subject of trust and the importance of standing behind agreements in order to create a sense of trustworthiness with others. Tell stories (or elicit theirs) of people they know they can count on.

“We know that Grandma and Grandpa are going to be at the airport when we go visit them, don’t we? That let’s us relax, knowing that we can count on them to remember to pick us up without reminding them, or worrying that they might forget to show up.”

Then talk about people who you don’t feel you can count on.

“I used to take my car to a certain auto shop for repairs. Even though the mechanic would promise to check out everything I mentioned to him was wrong, when I would pick up the car I would always find out he had left something undone. Eventually I found a more trustworthy mechanic — someone reliable, who was true to his word.”

Be a role model. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again (and again) — the best way to teach children to behave a particular way is to behave that way in front of them in your daily life. If you take ownership for the things you commit to doing, your children will follow suit. The importance of reliability will be delivered even more powerfully if you take responsibility for the times you don’t follow through, rather than blaming others or making excuses.

“I promised I’d pick up the wand for your Halloween costume, and I didn’t. I’m sorry. I understand that you’re disappointed, and am going to write it in my book for tomorrow morning so the day doesn’t get away from me like it did today.”

Avoid micro-managing. Whenever possible, allow your daughters to experience the natural consequences of their procrastination. Instead of nagging them to do their homework, try letting them go to school without having it done, letting the teacher deliver her consequences.

Don’t be needy. Sometimes, our kids deliberately avoid doing what they know they have to do simply to see what kind of interesting reaction we will provide. I called this MOM TV. Make sure that you’re making a request in a matter of fact way and dealing with procrastination without coming across as desperate. I had a phone session recently with a mother who chased her daughter every night to get her to brush her teeth. I said to Mom,“Why on earth would your daughter brush her teeth on her own when she’s guaranteed such a fun chase game with you every night?!”

Teach time management. It’s much easier for me to dive into a job I would otherwise avoid when there is a deadline associated with it. Have your daughters indicate to you by what specific time they will have a task finished and encourage them to set a timer to help them keep their word. Use their school assignment book or another kid-friendly system to help them begin writing things down so they can keep track of their responsibilities.

Everything from work to relationships is impacted by our ability to keep our agreements and follow through on our commitments. While children are naturally inclined to choose fun over mundane tasks, as long as you aren’t overloading your girls with responsibilities, these ideas should help you move them toward more independence and reliability.