When Do You Tell Your Child That Some Promises Will Be Broken?

by ParentCo. October 13, 2016

"Why don't you go ahead and pack up shop."

"No, Mom, we're waiting for the lady in the stroller, then we will."

My two younger children decided to spend their spring afternoons raiding the pantry and selling "baked goods" to the neighbors. On the first afternoon they did quite well and made $10. I assume by the third afternoon people were possibly avoiding our street, walking their dogs on a different route. You can only buy so many pre-packaged chocolate chunk cookies and fig bars.

I was outside weeding the flower bed on the third consecutive day that my little entrepreneurs set up a folding table, a sign made from construction paper and a Sharpie, and a mug for the cash. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw a lady walk by with a her baby in a stroller and then I heard her tell my son, "I'm so sorry I forgot my money again today. I promise to bring a dollar tomorrow!"

"Okay!" he said with hope in his voice.

The next day was Saturday and he was out early in the morning, peddling his pantry goods again. By 3 p.m. that afternoon I was ready for him to take down his table and come inside for a bit. However, he was determined to stay outside until that nice lady returned. It was hard for me to tell him that she may not.

When she told him she would be back, my son heard that as a promise and he was sure she was telling the truth. Of course, I wasn't so sure. I know how I myself might act in a situation like this. I might avoid that street so I wouldn't have to encounter that someone selling something again.

I also know I have my own trust issues. As an adult I know that people aren't always going to do what they say they are going to do – big things and little things. Sometimes they just forget. Sometimes they simply don't want to do it. Sometimes they outright lie.

But how do your tell that to your eight-year-old son?

Well, you don't. You realize that he will have plenty of time in this life to figure it out on his own. So instead, you say something like, "Maybe she decided to take an extra nap with her baby today," or, "Perhaps she got swept away by a tornado like Dorothy!" Okay, maybe don't say that second one.

The dilemma for me comes in when I think, Do I let him hold out hope that she will surely return? Because he's only eight and I'm not completely jaded yet, my heart says yes. But I'm also tempted to give him a little bit of reality and say, "There's a pretty good chance she won't come back today," and, "People don't always do what they say they are going to do."

Perhaps he's still too young for that lesson.

I think for now it's best to let him believe that she fully intended to come around again and buy something from his sale.

He did pack up shortly after I mentioned doing so. I think he was just tired of being out there and wanted to come in and watch some TV. I kind of hope she didn't walk by after that, disappointed that she wouldn't be able to fulfill her promise. But in a way, I also hope she did.



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