Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

4 Nissan 5765 - April 13, 2005 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly









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Shema Yisrael Torah Network











Home and Family

Promises, Promises
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 promising.

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 personal opinion.)

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 word.

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.


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