Helping My Child with Keeping Agreements


(C) 2007 Richard Dudley

One morning I told my daughter (7.5) it was time to clean her room before watching TV. “Oh mom,” she said. “You know I need time to wake up and just want to relax and watch a show before doing anything else.”

I kneeled down and said, “Okay, I get that. So do you agree that after your show you will pick up your room?”

“Yes,” she agreed.

Well as life goes she watched her show, got distracted with other things and didn’t want to clean her room anymore.

I reminded her of our agreement. “But I don’t wanna clean my room!” she whined in reply.

I had to bite my tongue from saying, “See?! You just get what you want then don’t follow through! I should have known not to negotiate with you.”

Instead, I reminded myself that she was probably feeling disconnected and struggling with some tension around cleaning her room. What she really needed was some listening and connection from me, anything else would just get us into a power struggle.

I sat next to her on her bed and listened as she complained about cleaning her room. She got up from her bed and stormed around her room telling me all the reasons why she couldn’t do it and didn’t want to do it. As I listened her tone escalated. She told me I couldn’t make her clean her room and that she didn’t have to!

Staying calm, I kept my focus on just listening to her. It can be easy to jump into the lecture, but I reminded myself to focus on really hearing her and allowing her to express all that she needed to say. I knew if I said anything much at this point she wouldn’t really be able to hear me anyway. It was important that I keep my center and not get hooked into her feeling about cleaning her room or worried about how this was all going to work out. Her cleaning her room was going to take a back seat to my really connecting with her right where she was at so I just kept listening taking in everything she had to say.

It didn’t take long before I noticed her tone started to calm and she relaxed next to me. When she seemed finished I told her that she was right, she didn’t “have to” clean her room and I wasn’t going to “make her”. This caught her interest and I had her full attention. Then I told her, since we had made an agreement, I would like her to keep it. I let her know that trusting a person’s word is an important quality to me. If she chooses not to keep it, that is her choice and that choice would influence my making future agreements with her because I’ll know she doesn’t always keep her agreements.

I let her know it really was her choice, gave her a hug and kiss, and then went on with what I needed to do to get ready for the day.

When I walked by her room about 5 minutes later I noticed she was cleaning up her room. And, she seemed quite happy with herself too!

As a parent it’s easy to get caught by worry when our children are not keeping to their word. We want so much for our children to keep their agreements that it’s easy to resort to trying to make them and telling them they have to. When we forget to simply connect with our kids and see what’s making this moment hard for them it’s easy to resort to threats, shame, blame and guilt.

By taking the time to listen however, we form a powerful connection with our children. As we hear them fully, we not only get to know what is in their hearts in that moment, but it also opens them up to hearing us in return. This moment where we hear them and they look to us, ready to listen in return, is where we have the influence we so want with our children. It is the opening where we can share our values with them and know that they are really taking in what we are sharing.

This moment with my daughter has led to more dialogues about trust and keeping our word. We’ve talked about times where we may need to break agreements for different reasons and how we can do that without damaging trust. And, I’ve listened to her tears when, for instance, she wanted to skip a party she had already committed to so she could go to a different party. In these instances I have felt it important to listen, and then hold the limit that she keep her first agreement, and not change because something “better” came along.

I can see my daughter is learning from these moments. Recently, when I was reluctant to negotiate on something with my daughter she looked at me earnestly and said, “Mom, I keep my agreements.” I nodded, smiling, and said, “Yes, you do.” And, together, we found something that worked for both of us.

~ Michelle Pate, Certified Parenting by Connection Instructor and Consultant Learn more about the power of listening and connecting with your child by joining Michelle in her upcoming Building Emotional Understanding Course.  You can also connect with her on Facebook.

3 thoughts on “Helping My Child with Keeping Agreements

  1. First of all, thank you for practicing Hand-in-hand Parenting. Listening to your child is a big step forward compared to the dominant culture’s norm of straight out domination of the child.

    In the interest of supporting you, I will be very direct. My intention is to bring light to the situation and not to judge you.

    If we are to look at this situation honestly, your daughter does not “have” to clean her room. This is your agenda for her. Coercing her to give her word in exchange for watching the show is not a respectful way to create an agreement.

    Her reaction was appropriate given your hidden agenda and the coercive approach to getting her to act on it. She never wanted to clean her room.

    If you want to create an agrement, you ought to start with: “I want your room to be clean and I don’t want to clean it myself. Would you consider doing it for me?” and be ready to accept a “No.” without any negative repercussions for her. That’s how clean agreements are made.

    As for emotional understanding, what are your emotions and needs behind your wanting her room to be clean? I imagine you have a need for order and the need for respect and when they are not met you feel annoyed… Maybe you can bring these up during your listening partnerships and look at the possibility of freeing your daughter from attending to your distress? Or use a different strategy, like getting her permission and cleaning the room yourself, to the satisfaction of both of you. After all, it is you who needs her room cleaned.

    I know I am quite direct with this post. It is my hope that you will see a possibility to be closer to your daughter, look deeper into your own needs and strategies and approach your child with the mutual respect that you undoubtedly want to teach.

  2. Hi Andrei,

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts here. It sounds like you are really concerned about children receiving fair treatment and respect for their autonomy and you are frustrated with the strategies our culture encourages parents to use to gain obedience from their children. And, I hear that having really clean, clear communication is important to you. I really appreciate that and can relate.

    Where I am feeling some concern is around the word “coercion” and I would like to get clearer about that. Were you thinking that if she said “no” to cleaning her room after her show that I was going to take her show away or “make” her clean her room first?

    If this was what led you to see my actions as coercive, please let me reassure you, that was not where I was coming from. My daughter could have said no. Her no would have led me to connect with her right then to see what was up for her in not wanting to clean her room after the show was over. (Admittedly, I am not always able to align with both my needs and my daughter’s needs. I’m not always able to connect first. Sometimes I am stressed, overwhelmed and get off-track, and will fall into parenting patterns that aren’t in alignment with me. Luckily, when we parent with a focus on connection we can always repair a disconnect that happens.)

    My daughter is free to say no, but her no doesn’t end the conversation. It’s an opportunity to explore what’s up behind the no. Just as my no isn’t an end to the conversation either. My daughter is quite skilled now in advocating for herself. She is able to listen to my needs as I share them, or even guess them sometimes, and she is able to come up with strategies that work for both of us!

    To answer your question around my emotions and needs here, I do have a need for order and for support around the house and I do get frustrated when those needs are not met. And yes, sometimes my distress can come out toward my daughter. However, my needs also include connection and respect for her and for her autonomy. These needs often trump the need for order!

    A little background which may be helpful, my daughter has a lot of choice in how she contributes to the order of the house and she gets lots of support for her efforts. Our one on-going agreement is that she pick up her room once a week so I can vacuum it. She gets to choose when she does this over the weekend, but yes, sometimes we struggle with the timing.

    I am glad you brought this up and I plan to check in with my daughter to see if she felt she had to yes so she could watch her show. In seeing how clearly she expressed her needs for relaxation before cleaning, and my acceptance and understanding of that, I assumed she would have said no if she didn’t want to clean it after. But I could be wrong here. Either way, it’s a good conversation to have, because I want her to be able to say yes from a place of joy and not from a place of fear.

    Thank you again for sharing your impressions. I hope this brings more clarity. I am grateful to be continually learning on this parenting journey and appreciate looking at this at an even deeper level.


  3. Make, keep and break agreements with care by Wendy McDonnell | Compassionate Solutions

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