Parents, do what you say!

As parents, we are leaders to our children. They will model themselves and their worldview on our actions and our words.

Steffan Surdek
September 25, 2017
Ma fille et mon fils qui se promènent dans une forêt

Some of my most popular articles are the leadership in parenting stories. I was telling this to my son lately and he told me that he even shows them to his friends! When I asked him what I should write about next, he laughed and said: "The story where I told my sister — He'll do it you know!".

So this next article on leadership in parenting will focus on the importance of doing what you say as a parent.

Teaching kids to keep their word

When my son was about four years old, there was a time when he refused to eat what was on his plate. It was a very frustrating time for us and it was hard sometimes not to get mad. We handled this in a couple of different ways.

The first approach was bringing him to his room and letting him think about it. These were the times when we had major drama at the dinner table. We would then go to see him in his room after five minutes or so and ask him if he was ready to eat yet. If he said no, we went back downstairs and returned five minutes later.

At one point, he picked up on two things:

  • Answering "no" meant we would leave and he would stay a bit longer in his room.
  • Answering "yes" meant he had to eat what was on his plate.

At one point, he started answering in ways that made no commitment. He would try to stall by giving any answer that was neither "yes" nor "no". It is a bit scary seeing kids learn to do that so fast, at such a young age. Imagine what we could do as adults with our life experience.

Do what you say

This approach worked only for a certain time. We reached a point where we needed to try something else. One night, during supper, our son did not want to eat. We were having spaghetti with tomato sauce and he wanted none of that.

At one point, I turn to him and tell him: "Oh, you are not hungry tonight Jonathan? How about we keep that for you tomorrow morning? There will be no dessert but if this is all good for you, you can go."

He answered back, "Sure, good for me!" and he left the table. We wrapped his plate up and put it in the fridge. The next morning when he woke up, I went downstairs with him and he told me he was hungry.

I told him to give me a minute, I went to the fridge and brought out the cold plate of spaghetti for him. The look on his face was a mix of disappointment and disbelief. I gave him a few minutes, asked him what was wrong. He did not answer so I offered to warm it up for him because cold spaghetti may not be as good.

I warmed it up and returned. He told me he was not hungry anymore and he could wait. I informed him he could eat it now, as a mid-morning snack or for lunch but this was the first thing he would eat today. His only choice in the matter was when he would eat it.

I never raised my voice, neither the night before nor in this moment. I set out the conditions and gave him a choice.

In the end, I let him off the hook after he ate a bit over half the plate. The idea was us keeping our word rather than forcing him to eat everything. I can count on both hands the number of times we did this with him and every time, he had his supper for breakfast. When we could not safely reheat it, he would get a bland breakfast of regular oatmeal instead.

The power of doing what you say

Let's move up in time to a few years later. We are having supper and our daughter Caroline is three years old. She is being fussy at the table and does not want to eat. At one point, I ask her if she wants her plate for breakfast the next morning. The first thing that comes out of her big brother's mouth is: "He'll do it you know!"

It was both a funny and semi-proud moment as a parent. As parents, we always tried to align on what we are willing to do before we did it. When we disagreed, we still went forward and supported each other on the decision. The twist being that the parent who said it was the one responsible for carrying it out.

Fast forward to now, many years later, and our kids still know that if we promise a consequence, it will happen. Recently it created a situation where Jonathan came to us to hold us accountable. He takes care of his sister during off-days of school. We told her she needs to behave when she is with him or we will sign her up at the daycare at school instead.

Last year, Jonathan had some challenges with her and asked to see consequences this year. It is nice to see him have the courage to tell us that, but it is also a result of us keeping our word.


I cannot say this enough in these articles. As parents, we are leaders to our children. They will repeat our behaviours in many different ways in the future, whether with their children, their friends or with their colleagues at work.

Keeping our word with them is one of the keys. When we make a promise or threaten a consequence, we owe it to them to follow through. When we cannot meet or do what we tell them, we need to explain the reason to them and renegotiate our promise.

The other point is when you threaten with a consequence, make sure it is something you are willing to do. If you are not comfortable doing what you say in the first place, the real problem starts there.

When we do not keep our word, we lose our credibility in their eyes and they will eventually not believe us anymore.

As a parent, how often do you do what you say with your children? When you promise a consequence, how often is it an empty threat?