Keeping our word is a matter of integrity. When we keep our word we establish our own character which then impacts how our children see us. It is a serious realisation that our children are forming an opinion about us with every engagement we have. They may not know it explicitly but over time they start to know when we mean what we say, and when we don’t – and they will judge us accordingly.
The words we say are like a promise to act. When our children say ‘yes mum’ we expect their actions to follow suite. They have verbally agreed to do what we asked, it is like their promise. The same goes for us – when we say something, it is like a promise and we need to follow through with our actions. When we don’t follow through we break our promise – we haven’t kept our word.
3 Times to Keep Your Word
There are three main situations that we face as parents where we need to be aware of our words, and hold to them:
1: Giving instructions
So often we rattle off “do this” and “do that”, our instructions become vague and on the run. It is easy to ignore or whitewash an instruction if words have been thrown out with no intention. Alternatively when we call our children to us, and have their attention, when we give clear instruction and wait for their response, and when we follow through checking that they’ve done what we ask, we create a culture where our instructions are words to be considered and acted upon. When we give intentional instruction our children know that we mean what we say.
2: Giving consequences
Giving a consequence needs to be as deliberate as giving an instruction. In the busy rush of the day we often just throw out threats – if you don’t do this then this will happen! Repeat that enough times, without follow through, and our children start to believe that we won’t ever follow through – or they’ll at least measure the risk and be prepared to take the chance! When we give threats out like this we are really threatening a punishment – we have no intention of making it a consequence. A consequence is a repercussion from a decision that helps you make a better decision next time. Threats like this and any correction that we throw out willy nilly will lead to us not keeping our word – most the times we aren’t even aware we’ve made such a statement, or threat. It is just words. Unless we follow through our children will see that our words are empty, and we not only miss an opportunity to teach them to make wise choices, but we consolidate the idea that we don’t keep our word.
3: Making promises
Our relationship with our children is being established on our words. Are our words worth believing in? We make small promises all day to our children (actually small promises don’t exist – if you said it you said it!) Our children place huge value on the words we say and yet often we ourselves don’t, this needs to change. Our words are vital to the well being of our family life. We tell our children we will read a story, we will play a game, we will go and visit and in our mind we may do these things if we have the time but that is not what we say. Before we open our mouth, we need to be aware of what we are going to say, we need to check the reality of what it is we are about to promise.
Distraction Stops us from Keeping our Word
Years ago when I was revisiting this idea I discussed keeping our word with our children. I asked them what is it that stops them from doing what they said they would do. Their answer was very clear – distractions. Their heart responses to life aren’t that different from ours as parents. I really do believe it is distractions that stops us from keeping our word too.
For parents this means:
- We have too much going on at any one time so we are distracted
- Our priorities get out of whack and we focus on the wrong thing
If you struggle with consistency I encourage you to:
- Look at your training goals for your children – are they specific? Remember you can’t train everything today! Choose one major issue for each of your children, and if that is too many to deal with choose one issue at a time.
- Look at your days – do you have time to train your children? Do you have time to get along side of them and show them how live, do you have time to be there to correct and guide their choices? If your days are too busy I encourage you to learn to say “no” so you can focus on your priorities – your children.
- Teach yourself not to say anything to your children unless you are standing still and looking them in their eyes. If you have a bad case of “inconsistency” then I also suggest you hold their hands or have some physical contact before you speak. Doing these things will slow you down, make you aware of what you are saying to your children – be it an instruction or a correction. When you are more aware of your words you are more likely to keep them!
He who guards his lips guards his life,
but he who speaks rashly will come to ruin.
“A man is only as good as his word” may be an old fashioned statement that we don’t hear any more – but that is a shame. When our word can be trusted we build respect which builds relationship which will lead to influence. If we want to influence our children’s lives, we need to have relationship. Our relationship will only be built on respect and trust. It is important to keep our word – no matter how little or seemingly insignificant the words that we need to say are.
Over to you:
How does ‘keep your word’ impact you and your parenting?