a peek inside the fishbowl

09 Aug, 2007

Promises promises

Posted by andrea tomkins in: Misc. life

I remember trying to explain the concept of promises when the girls were small. How did we put it? If you tell someone you’re definitely going to do something, or be somewhere, you’re committing to your words. This declaration is a promise, and we always keep our promises.

This is an area where the grownups must lead by example. We keep our promises. I think the concept of a promise is an important one to teach to kids. The promise is the cousin of commitment, trust, honesty, and responsibility. It’s critical kids learn it for themselves, because if they don’t know how to make and keep promises, what kind of adults are they going to become?

At some point we introduced the Pinky Promise. The Pinky Promise is utterly unbreakable. It is the big time of promises. We use the Pinky Promise with Emma. With Sarah, it’s a Thumb Promise because her thumb has extra special significance to her. No matter the digit, the meaning and the technique are the same for each. If someone demands a Pinky/Thumb Promise the two people have to “shake” on it with either a pinky or thumb. This action seals the promise and makes it stick. There is no backing out of it either.

The Pinky Promise is most often invoked in cases involving honesty. And quite often I’m the one who’s asked to hold out my pinky and clarify the veracity of my statement.

“WOW, Emma! I think that dog was driving the car!”
“Really?” she asks. I can tell by the look on her face that she’s not sure if she should believe me or not.
She holds out her pinky. “Pinky Promise?”

At this point I either evade the question by changing the topic or shift my eyes for dramatic effect. They know I’m fibbing because I won’t shake pinkies.


Don’t worry. It’s all done in good fun. I wouldn’t try to convince Emma that the dog was really driving.

We’ve always tried to stress the importance of honesty around here. We’ve tried to teach the girls that lying is one of the Very Worst Things You Can Do. But it’s tricky, because sometimes we have been know to tell little white lies to spare someone’s feelings. This is a whole other kettle of fish – when is it okay to lie? When isn’t it?  We’ve told them time and time again never to lie to us, their parents. My worst fear is that they’ll be in a situation where another adult has told them – for very bad reasons – not to tell us about something that’s going on.

The truth is that kids are most tempted to lie in order to save themselves from getting into trouble.

In our house, lying to parents is the biggest no-no there is, and they know that. If someone disobeys a direct order and something bad happens, there’s trouble. If they lie about it, there is bigger trouble. So for example… let’s say the girls break something they’ve been specifically told not to play with. When I find out about it they will experience anything ranging from quiet disappointment to much louder manifestations of the same. If they’ve LIED about it, the disappointment is extreme. Only once has one of the girls broken a Pinky Promise. I won’t share details – privacy issues and all that – but it was a doozy. A big lesson was learned that day. No more Pinky Promises have been broken since. (That I know of anyway!)

5 Responses to "Promises promises"

1 | Roz

August 9th, 2007 at 9:14 am


This post brought back memories of the book “A Promise is a Promise” by Robert Munsch that i read when i was little.

2 | Yaris

August 9th, 2007 at 9:19 am


Hm, – zajimava debata a hodne tenky led! -:))
Jsem zvedava na reakce ctenaru. Kazdy ma nejake to maslo na hlave. Vcetne politiku a medii, ktere oblbuji davy kazdy den. -:)

3 | BeachMama

August 10th, 2007 at 7:14 am


A good post. As we are now entering the new world of telling lies, and for the most part it is for something simple like not washing hands or flushing the toilet, we are really trying to stress that telling the truth is important.

May I ask how you deal with things when they do lie? Do you use just the utter disappointment or do you discipline them in some way (take away a toy, time out…)? I am curious as this is an area you seem to be excelling in and we are just staring out, any pointers are welcome.

4 | andrea

August 10th, 2007 at 8:58 am


Thanks Beach Mama –

When the girls were very small I did this thing when I suspected they were telling the truth about something small … like whether or not they washed their hands.

I told them their nose was wiggling, and that lie-related nose wiggling could only be seen by the parent of the child. Of course, I suspected they
were lying when they came to me with one hand covering their nose as they talked, or if their hands flew up to their faces as soon as I called them on it. :)

I think you have to punish accordingly. It really depends on what the lie is about, isn’t it? I’m not going to give the kid a huge time out because she hasn’t washed her hands. I don’t want to break her spirit, but at the same time we have to somehow communicate that it’s wrong to lie.

Extreme Disappointment works fairly well with our girls. If we look sad and disappointed, and tell them we are too, they end up bawling and feeling bad about their lie. At that point I can always see that deep in their hearts they know it was wrong.

I’d love to hear other comments on this issue!

5 | BeachMama

August 10th, 2007 at 12:08 pm


Thanks Andrea. I like the idea of the wiggling nose, so far we just do the disappointed sad face and hope the he catches on that we are really upset with him. So far the lies are small and really insignificant, but we want to be sure to start off on the right foot before they grow into pinocchio sized lies.

I appreciate you sharing with us.

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The Obligatory Blurb

My name is Andrea and I live in the Westboro area of Ottawa with my husband Mark and our dog Piper who is kind of a big deal on Instagram. We also have two human daughters: Emma (20) and Sarah (18). During the day I work as a writer at The Royal Ottawa Mental Health Centre. I am a longtime Ottawa blogger and I've occupied this little corner of the WWW since 1999. The Fishbowl is my whiteboard, water cooler, and journal, all rolled into one. I'm passionate about healthy living, arts and culture, family travel, great gear, good food, and sharing the best of Ottawa for families. I also love vegetables, photography, gadgets, and great design.

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