When I wrote about conflict resolution, I mentioned that
I did not ask children to apologize when they have an altercation. Rather,
I prefer to have them make a commitment toward positive behavior in the
A reader, a mother of four, wrote to ask me to expound upon the topic of
getting children to commit to improved behavior and then keep their word.
When there is a problem, I have found that children generally respond well
to having a heartfelt talk with an adult in charge. Most children want
to do what is right. An explanation of what is right comes from the parent
The words will be different if you are talking to a four-year-old or eight-year-old,
but the tenor of the talk is the same: you are a member of a group - whether
it is a class at school or a family at home - and all the members of the
group need to contribute certain behaviors if things are to function well.
Most children can understand this dynamic.
I have found that writing down the commitment can be a powerful tool in
helping the child to achieve it. At home, we have The Book of Understandings.
This eliminates the child’s telling us, “We never talked about that,” or
“I don’t remember talking about that.”
An example from our own book is that on March 7, 1995, Brian signed a statement
that he understood that he did not have permission to change the outgoing
message in the answering machine. Since that time, he has kept his word.
Kids especially get it when parents give some examples of the times that
they make an agreement and keep their word. As your children’s role model
in this arena, haven’t you kept your agreement to do many things? Think
of all those parties, athletic events, and shopping trips, you said you
would do... and did.
Your contributions to the family have helped to keep things running smoothly.
What you are asking your young people to do is to follow your lead.
This column has been incorporated and expanded in Teach Your Children
Well: A Teacher’s Advice for Parents.