by R. Chadshai
In many homes, there is no such thing as a promise. Parents
take great care to add, " Bli nedder — I am not
promising," to any seeming promise. They will explain to even
very small children that they will try, but bli
nedder. However, not all families have such discipline
and promises are used somewhat recklessly. Furthermore, even
if you add the riders "All being well, b'ezeras Hashem,
bli nedder," and however often you explain, the child
regards them as promises, and he expects you to keep them.
The following are some golden rules to observe when
1. Children need a certain time limit when you ask for an
improvement. (So do adults!) For example, there is no point
in saying "If you keep your room always tidy, I will make
some matching curtains for the windows." What is 'always'?
"If you promise never to tell lies again, Daddy will take you
to visit Grandpa next time he goes." Never? "If you always
pay attention in school, I will get you a super new pencil
case." Always? Limit your requests and time spans. "If you
keep your room tidy for one week." "Next time you are in
trouble, if you keep to the truth and admit to what you did .
. . ."
"If your teacher sends me a note at the end of the week that
you were much better . . . "
2. Make the promises reasonable. "If you go to sleep early
tonight, you can come to the wedding with me tomorrow night."
"If you stop squabbling about your game and let him share, I
will get you a packet of felt tips of your own." "If you take
the baby out every day this week so that I can get on with
the Pesach cleaning, we will go to the zoo on chol
hamoed, all being well." (I personally feel children
should learn to help without being bribed, but that is just a
3. The promise has to fit the age of the child, especially if
it is a prize of some kind. Money has no value to children
before a certain age, and there is no point in explaining
that a bank account is worth far more than a toy car or a
skipping rope, and that he could buy dozens of toy cars with
the money you are investing for him. Most readers will have
heard the parable of the apprentice who had been working for
a year when his master sent him home with a check for the
work he had done. The lad burst into tears and exclaimed,
"But you promised me money." His master handed him a fistful
of small change, and the boy went home perfectly happy. (For
readers who were unacquainted with the story, the
nimshal is in the Haggada. Hashem promised Avrohom
that his descendants would be enslaved in Egypt and when they
left, it would be with great possessions. He meant the gift
of the Torah, but the Jews with their slave mentality, were
not yet able to appreciate the Torah, so meanwhile, He gave
them vast amounts of silver and gold.) When you fulfill a
promise to a child, he has to feel pleased about it.
4. Sometimes we promise something to children because we need
their help, or for some other reason. It may turn out that we
regret the rash promise, and do not feel like keeping it. Do
not let the child feel that paying a debt is a burden.
5. If you promise a certain item as a reward, you cannot
rescind it. For example, you promised to buy the child a bike
if he learned a particular masechta by heart. The boy
worked hard and completed the masechta but committed
some heinous crime before you even bought the bike. You
cannot tell him that he has forfeited the bike with his
behavior. One has nothing to do with the other. You will have
to buy the bike and give it to him. There is nothing to stop
you using it as a punishment, forbidding the use of it for a
certain period of time. But he has to see you keep your
6. Under the age of six or seven, a child has very little
concept of time. A month seems like eternity. If you have to
go away, explain to the child that you will be back after one
Shabbos and then another Shabbos. An extended period of time
is too difficult for the child to grasp. You could give him a
sheet of paper with stickers and he can pull one off every
morning when he wakes up. An adult must keep the paper,
otherwise he will expect you back after one day.
Alternatively, he can put the stickers onto a blank sheet of
paper. The child will learn that you keep your promise even
after a long time. Keep to your word even if the child has
forgotten about it.
7. If you have to defer the promise for any reason, explain
that you have not forgotten. They didn't have the right size
or color in stock, or that you just had no time to go
shopping. There are times when you just cannot keep the
promise through no fault of your own. For example, the shops
do not stock that particular item any more. Or "I promised to
take you for an outing for the Chanuka vacation, but there is
no traffic running because of the snow." Ask the child/ren if
they can suggest an alternative treat. It does not harm them
to know that things are not always in our control. Man
proposes and G-d disposes.
Too many prizes, too often, lose their value, and teach
children to work only for the reward. Admittedly, most of us
work for some recompense, but it does not always have to be a
tangible incentive. Promises made to anyone have to be kept.
You may have promised to keep a secret for him, however
absurd the secret: if you feel it is for the child's benefit
to tell someone, ask his permission first. Children do what
they see. Example, as always, is the best teacher.