6 Ways to Teach Your Preschooler About Commitment
Wouldn’t it be awesome if our best character strengths could be genetically passed on to our kids? What an amazing world we would live in! Instead it takes long years of intentional training and practice. It takes commitment from the parents to develop the character their kids need to handle the realities of life that await them.
Since commitment is not inherited, it must be instilled. And you are the best qualified to do the instilling. Why? Because parents have one unique quality only they possess – a God-given gift that comes with every newborn: Love for their child. It’s because of this amazing love that you yourself have made the commitment to do all you can to prepare them for life on their own. You want them to find what they love to do and be filled with the good, strong character they need to succeed. Commitment is the fuel that will get you and your child from start to finish.
Building Commitment in Preschoolers
Since preschoolers are more likely to grasp the meaning of promises rather than commitment, talking about keeping promises might be a good way to start. We use storytelling at EmethGym to develop specific character qualities in students and Stella is our main character for this preschool story. As she learns the importance of keeping promises, she sometimes gets it right and sometimes doesn’t. But in either case and she’s improving. The specific declaration for this junior age group is: How do you practice keeping promises? “I do what I say I will do.”
This is really the essence of promise-keeping that very young kids understand and that can be easily practiced. An additional benefit will be learning the importance of thinking ahead before making promises. Teaching kids to avoid making impulsive decisions will spare them many future regrets.
6 Ways to Teach Your Preschooler About Commitment
1. Be the inspiration your child needs.
As always, actions speak louder than words. Show your preschooler what keeping a commitment looks like. Promise to read them a book every night for a week or to take them to the park on a certain day. Your example will be far more effective than any words you speak.
Make a personal commitment that your child can do with you. For instance, commit to 20 minutes of exercise at a certain time five days a week for the month of October. Use a calendar and check off each day. Invite your child to remind you and even to join you. Be honest and share when you don’t feel like doing it, but choose to do so anyway. Talk about what you learned and what you gained after a month.
2. Carefully choose your words when the opportunity arises.
If your 3-year-old asks to dump out the whole box of Duplos to play with, before you say yes, ask her, “Will you promise to put them all back when you’re finished?” If she says yes, make sure she follows through. Then thank her for doing what she said she would do. Explain that when she keeps her promises, other people will know they can count on her to do important things for them. If she doesn’t put them away, remind her of her promise and why it is important. Tell her to follow through. If you offer to help, use that time to talk about thinking before making a promise. “If you really don’t like picking up afterward, maybe you should have just taken out a few.”
3. Create opportunities for your child to keep a commitment.
Mrs. Jones, your neighbor, is going away for the week and would like you to feed her cat and water her plants. Ask her to pose the question to your child: “I’m going away for a week and would like you to feed my cat and water my plants. Will you promise to do that for me?” Of course you’ll be there with her the whole time. Talk about what would happen if she didn’t follow through with her promise. Don’t be surprised if Mrs. Jones gives her a little gift for being so dependable!
4. Connect a commitment or promise with a goal.
Does your child want a kitten or puppy? Explain all that’s involved in caring for a pet. Pets need to be cared for whether you feel like doing the work or not. Start with a goldfish. If they keep their promise to feed it and keep the bowl clean for a month, then they can get the pet they wanted.
5. Read books that focus on making promises or commitments.
These are great stories to start with:
Horton Hatches the Egg
Try and Stick with It (audio)
6. Set expectations and stick to them.
It may be that your children must clean up their toys when they are finished playing or putting their dirty clothes in the laundry room. Expectations will help them understand that each person in the family has a part to play. If they don’t commit to doing so, the whole family suffers to some degree. Developing a sense of responsibility and making commitments go hand-in-hand.
Be sure to recognize when promises are kept! By affirming their good qualities as they display them, you’re encouraging more of the same. Kids want to please their parents. They are more likely to develop good qualities when they’re affirmed for displaying them than when they are being corrected for not displaying them. Be quick to notice when promises and commitments are kept and praise their efforts!