This is the third of eight articles where I’ll share what I learned about parenting at Disneyland. In my first blog entry on this topic, I shared how Disneyland taught me how important it is for parents to be proactive. In my second blog entry, I wrote about how we should strive to be present with our kids. In this blog entry I will share a third parenting insight I received on my recent trip to the happiest place on earth.
During a recent trip to Disneyland, I was able to observe many parent-child interactions. I realized from these observations, that most of what anyone really needs to know about how to be effective as a parent can be learned at Disneyland. Watching families standing in lines, shopping in souvenir stores, eating meals in restaurants, watching parades and shows, trading Disney collector pins (a hobby my son has), riding on various attractions, posing for photos, and deciding which direction to go proved to be very insightful!
The time I spent at Disneyland helped remind me how important it is that we keep the promises we make to our kids. As mentioned earlier, my son is a Disney pin trader. There are lots of people who trade pins at Disney. Most who trade wear their pins on a lanyard and some avid collectors (like my son) have books with cloth pages that hold the pins. There are special tables at Disneyland where pin trading takes place throughout the day. People who are really into pin trading visit the tables and negotiate pin trades. One little boy with a lanyard looked through my son’s pins, showing interest in many of his pins. He asked my son if he was interested in trading for any of the pins he was wearing on his lanyard. My son expressed interest in one of the pins on the boy’s lanyard. I could tell the mom was hoping her son would not make the trade, but she told her son “It’s up to you.” Her son got excited about the trade (and it was a fair trade in my opinion), and as he went to take off his pin, his mom pulled him aside and talked quietly with him. The boy then returned to the table and with great sadness told my son, “My mom won’t let me trade that pin.” I wondered probably what her son was wondering as well – why did she say “It’s up to you,” when it really wasn’t. Sometimes parents say things like that because what they really mean is “You can make this decision as long as you make the decision that I want you to make.” I felt like she implied a promise when she told him he could make that decision and I think he felt like a promise had been broken. He didn’t even want to look at other pin traders’ pins after that; he seemed very disinterested in this hobby after this interaction with his mom and before this unfortunate situation, he had seemed to be very interested in pin trading. I felt like his mom had popped his bubble, although I am sure unintentionally. I think she was trying to protect him. For some reason she thought that pin was special – maybe that pin carries some special memories or maybe it was a gift from a close friend or relative…maybe even a gift she gave her son. But when we make a promise to our kids – and not all promises contain the word “promise” – we need to do all we can to stay true to those promises.
My husband and I are very careful when we go over plans with our son. We try to use phrases like “We can probably do that…” or “I hope we can do that…”. We only use phrases that imply promises when we are sure we will keep those promises. For example, a few weekends ago, we spent a whole Sunday afternoon playing a board game that requires a big time commitment. My son had received the game as a birthday gift. He had played the game with a babysitter and he had been reading over the directions carefully and he was really looking forward to playing the game as a family. We promised him that sometime over the weekend, we would play the game and then we had to make sure that we actually followed through with the promise. Beginning Friday night, he was setting up the game on the dining room table and he waited with great anticipation for us to sit down and play the game. It makes me feel good that he had confidence that we would follow through with that promise. I believe it’s very important for kids to feel like they can rely on the promises their parents make. That’s how they learn to be true to their word.
So I challenge you to think about how you are keeping your promises (explicit and implicit) as a parent. This is something that I strive to do consistently as a parent…and the “happiest place on earth” helped remind me of this very important parenting principle.