It is so very easy to make a promise to a child. Sometimes when we do so, we are secretly hoping the child will forget what we said and not hold us to it. Other times, we really have good intentions to follow through, but other things seem to distract us, and we never follow through hoping the child will forget. The reality is that children don’t forget the promises we make, and when we make those promises and don’t follow through, we lose our credibility in their minds.
King Solomon tells us in the book of Ecclesiastes, chapter five and verses four and five, that we should fulfill what we vow and that it is better not to make a vow than to vow and not fulfill it. From this scripture, we know that we should be very careful to make even a small promise and not follow through with it.
It is far too easy to put a child off by saying, “Just a minute." One mother told me that her son came to her once and said, “Mom, how long is a minute?” She had forgotten to get back to him. It is better to say something like, “I’m doing _______ now, and when I get finished, I will try to help you.” The phrase, “I will try” is much better than a promise because it leaves the door open for the reality that the action may not be possible. In this way, we are being honest with the child.
When an adult makes a promise to a child and does not follow through, that adult is saying by actions that the thing that prevented the keeping of the promise was more important than the child. The child then concludes in his/her mind that the adult does not care as much for the child as for whatever interfered with the keeping of the promise. Parents may think, “Doesn’t the child realize I have to work and make a living for the family?” The truth is that the child does not realize that unless it has been explained. That is why parents and other teachers and leaders should take the time to explain the “whys” of actions to children.
Even well-meaning church leaders often make mistakes by saying things like, “I’ll pray for you,” and then not follow through and do so. Unfortunately, those in leadership positions sometimes think that because of their position, everyone should understand if they don’t follow through with a promise. This should not be so. A parent, church leader, or teacher does not have the right to break promises simply because of status. In God’s eyes, they are no more important than that little child who is looking up to them to be an example.
Heaven help the adult who breaks promises to others for self pleasure! That person will be held accountable no matter how important a position they may be holding. We need to be very, very careful about making promises. Once that promise is made, every effort should be made to keep it and not disappoint those to whom it is made. We must never forget that children are a gift from God. They are like fragile little flowers. Their spirits are easily bruised and, unfortunately, sometimes broken.