I had a houseguest once who called me on how important it is to keep your word as a mum. Let your yes be yes, and your no be no – is what he said. He called me on second guessing myself, on entering negotiations, and on changing what I had said when my kids didn’t like it and not following through after I did say something. He had a point and for a while after he left us, I heard his voice in my head – keep your word: let your yes be yes, and your no be no. It really is a first step for parenting well. So lets look into this today…
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 confronting 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 not only will they act accordingly, they will also judge us accordingly – which affects our ongoing relationship.
The words we say are like a promise to act. When our children say ‘yes mum’ we expect their actions to follow suit. 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.
Follow through is about taking action. We often resort to a verbal action – yelling is usually top of the list. But this is not an effective way of communicating to your kids. But if we want to keep our word – we need do need to be prepared to take action – but more often than not this requires some physical action on our behalf. We actually have to do what we say we are going to do – and not just yell about it.
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 ourselves to what we’ve said:
1: Giving instructions
So often we rattle off “do this” and “do that”, our instructions become vague and on the run. From the kids perspective, it is easy to ignore an instruction if words have been just thrown out with no intention.
Alternatively when we get close, and have their attention, when we give clear instruction and wait for their response, and when we then 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 (both in our own habits and in the mind of the child). When we give intentional instructions to our children, and follow through, they know that we mean what we say.
2: Dealing with our Children’s Poor Choices
Helping our children after they have made a poor choice is another time where we have to be aware of what we are saying, and keep to our word. 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 to not keeping our word – most the times we aren’t even aware we’ve made such a statement, or threat. It is just words that come out in frustration. Unless we follow through our children will see that our words are empty, and we not only miss an opportunity to help them to make wise choices, but we consolidate the idea that we don’t keep our word.
3: Making promises
Our words establish our relationship with our children. That is a pretty hefty concept. 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 the reality is we often don’t have the same value: 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 before we promise. Remember, if we are going to be true to our words – our words are a promise.
Distraction Stops us from Keeping our Word
Years ago when I was revisiting this idea I discussed keeping our word with our kids. 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 really any different from ours as parents – we are all people, learning to do the right thing at the right time. So I think they were right, I really do believe it is distractions that stop us from keeping our word too.
For parents this means:
- We have too much going on at any one time so we are distracted
- (and/or) Our priorities get out of whack and we focus on the wrong thing at the wrong time, making us distracted.
If you struggle with this here are 3 things to think about:
-1- Look at your training goals for your children – are they specific? Remember you can’t train everything today! You can’t deal with all the things in one day. Choose one major issue for each of your children, and if that is too many to deal with choose one issue at a time.
If you try and work on all the issues you will be distracted, you will say things and not follow through, you will make empty threats and not keep your word so look at the immediate training goals you have for your children.
-2- Look at your days – do you actually have time to train your children? Do you have time to get alongside of them and show them how to 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 – which is the heart of your children.
One way to look at our days is to keep a time log where every hour you check in with yourself and you write a list of what you have dealt with in the last hour. Doesn’t have to be down to the last dot – just generally, what comes to mind, what have you dealt with in the last hour. Do that for a week or two then you can look over your notes and see where the distractions are coming from and where you are focusing on things that aren’t your priorities.
-3- 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 “not keeping your word” then I also suggest you hold their hands or have some physical contact before you speak. Doing these things will slow you down, and make you aware of what you are saying to your children – be it an instruction, a correction, or just a conversation. When you are more aware of your words you are more likely to keep them!
Our Words Have Consequences
“A man is only as good as his word” may be an old-fashioned statement that we don’t hear anymore – 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 with them. Our relationship will only be built on respect and trust. So it is important to keep our word – no matter how little or seemingly insignificant the situations we are in might seem – our words matter.
We all know what it is like for a friend or even our spouse – to say something to us, and not follow through and do what they said they would. We know the heart-hurt that happens when a friend says something when they are distracted and you know they are not really with you even though they say the right words. Our kids feel that too.
He who guards his lips guards his life, but he who speaks rashly will come to ruin.
This verse speaks directly to the parent who is distracted and does not keep their word. Their relationship with their child will come undone.
A child will quickly feel like you don’t have time for them, like they are not important, like you don’t really care, like they are an inconvenience, that you are not on their side, that you are not listening and you don’t know who they are. Just going through that list you can feel the heartache in a child whose parent doesn’t keep their word. So let our yes be yes, and our no be no.
Heart Action Step
The heart-action step is for you to start listening to yourself. Changing habits starts with awareness. You need to be aware of how often you say something and don’t follow through.
Remember, whenever we notice that we are not doing something well – we have a choice to be down on ourselves about that – which just leads to a hole of negative thoughts – or we can choose to work on it, accepting where we are at, and knowing that we have the capability to choose to do things differently.
Maybe you can make a little poster that says: Let your “Yes” be yes and your “No” be no. and keep it where you will be reminded.
Then set yourself up for success.
- You might need to slow down your days – I know this is hard, but we’ve just talked about the implications if you don’t!
- You might need to revisit boundaries so that you kids are getting into less mischief and you have more awareness of what is going on (revisit Podcast #10 talking about boundaries)
- You might need to apologise to your children, acknowledging that you have been distracted and yet you want to move forward being more conscious with what you say.
Last week we talked about being a healthy person – and I linked the Heart Booster Resource Healthy Person Journal and Assessment to help you process the areas in your life where you were not so healthy and strong. Today’s topic of keeping your word is directly related to being healthy. A stressed person is going to be more careless with the words they say – so if you haven’t joined Heart Boosters and worked on that worksheet – then this week would be a good time to do that.
Choose Your Words Carefully and Speak Life Throughout the Day: Parents have 5 different opportunities to speak words of life to our kids; words that instill hope, courage, trust and a sense of belonging.
5 Character Traits for Busy Women: Busyness robs us of our intentionality and purpose. We need to focus on positive character traits to find balance.
Giving instructions to the Easily Distracted Child: When giving instructions to the easily distracted child, we need to focus on how to help them, instead of being frustrated with them.
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Hi there! I'm Belinda and I'm glad you are here!
I am a family life coach and help parents to raise their kids with faith, values and life skills in a way that is intentional, relational and heart-focused. Read more on the About page
You can learn about heart-focused parenting through my podcast, blog and weekly email (Heart Boosters).
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