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Why I Think It's Criminal To Give A Child False Promises

04/05/2016 8:17 AM IST | Updated 15/07/2016 8:26 AM IST
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By Prachi Chitre

"If you answer aunty properly, she will give you a chocolate! She has a nice big chocolate in her bag," the mother says as I try to begin a session with her child. I cringe in my seat. Oh no, not again. I gently tell the child, "I don't have a chocolate but I am going to give you a nice smiley sticker after we are done."

In most cases, the parent does not even realize why I am not supporting her statement until I explain my reasons in the counselling session. I sincerely feel that it is criminal to give a child false hopes. For that matter, giving false hopes to anybody is not right. Parents do not realize what they are doing when they easily promise anything and everything to their child with no intentions of honouring their word.

We often wonder how our children learned to lie. Sometimes, the answer is simple: they learned to lie from us.

A very poor eater was once told by his mother that if he ate four rotis, she would buy him a bicycle in the evening. The child forced himself to eat the rotis as he desperately wanted a bicycle. Of course, the mother had no intention of buying him a bicycle and made the promise thinking he'd never be able to eat so much. When the bicycle did not materialize, the child felt cheated, threw an unimaginable temper tantrum and the mother did not know how to handle the situation.

We often wonder how our children learned to lie. Sometimes, the answer is simple: they learned to lie from us. Think of all the false assurances that we give our children--a chocolate, a trip, a gift, an ice cream, I will not go to the office, I will allow you to bunk school, the doctor will not give you an injection...

Imagine your boss assuring you of a promotion and then you realize that your name is not on the list. What would you feel?

Now, imagine your boss assuring you of a promotion and then you realize that your name is not on the list. Your spouse promises you a gift and shows up empty-handed! What would you feel? Disappointment? Anger? In adult terms, a chocolate and a promotion cannot be compared, but for the child, the feelings are the same. In extreme cases, if a child has been frequently given false promises, he could have serious issues in trusting others. Another consequence would be that such a child will also learn to give false assurances and promises with no intentions of fulfilling them.

Parallel to this is giving false threats and saying things that you will never ever do to your child. Once, when travelling by rail, I heard a mother telling her child that she would throw him out of the train. Threatening abandonment is an extreme threat, but several others are used very commonly: threats like locking the child in the bathroom with cockroaches, conjuring up imaginary creatures, dogs, ghosts. Often parents do not realize that these threats could have long-term consequences on the child. Constant exposure to such threats could make the child anxious and nervous and result in low self-confidence. On the other hand, when the child realizes that these threats are never carried out, he could become thick-skinned and defiant. Both consequences are undesirable.

In extreme cases, if a child has been frequently given false promises, he could have serious issues in trusting others.

The golden rule here is to do what you say and say only what you will do. So if you promise your child something, fulfill it. If you have no intentions of doing so, don't ever commit to it. Similarly, don't ever threaten your child with things or events that will never happen. If we want confident, happy and secure children, we need to give them a security blanket, not a threatening environment.

Often, it is our helplessness and inadequacy that drives us to give false threats. Spelling out logical consequences of their actions works even with young kids and one does not have to resort to such threats. You can watch my video below to get tips on how to make your child listen to you. I hope it helps you in your parenting journey and in strengthening your bond with your kid.

Prachi Chitre has more than 15 years of experience in the field of mental health. During this time, she has helped parents manage a variety of issues ranging from attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), autism, giftedness, cognitive impairment, emotional and behavioural difficulties to daily child development and parental concerns. She holds a Masters in Human Development and Bachelors in Psychology.

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