Help Child Decide on An Activity, Evaluate It, Take Responsibility

Dear Dr. Fournier:

I am very upset with my son. He always wants to try new things but gives me no assurance that once he starts something, he will live up to his side of the commitment. Many of the activities he wants are, to put it bluntly, not cheap. I feel that if I am willing to put up the money and do the chauffeuring, he should at least make the commitment to complete what he starts. Something that is supposed to be done in an effort to please him turns out to be a nightmare of fights. How does a parent teach a child the commitment to complete what he starts?

Angie S.

Portland, OR

Dear Angie:


Many people -both children and adults– make commitments based on the impression they had of what they were getting into without really knowing what it was going to be like.

We can all look back on commitments we made and then broke. In these cases, I believe that broken commitments are not necessarily due to irresponsibility or laziness or lack of motivation they are due to a lack of knowledge of what a person is getting into.

If adults have difficulty keeping commitments simply for lack of allowing themselves to fully understand what they are committing to, what can we expect of children?


As parents, we can help our children see commitment as a – three-step process:

1. Knowledge-gathering: Have your child make a short-term commitment for the activity to gather information. At the end of that time, sit down and talk about the positives and negatives he sees in this activity. A short-term commitment is both short enough and long enough for child to learn all he needs to know about the activity to say if the good outweighs the bad

2. Perseverance: If your child chooses to continue, he is ready for the second stage of commitment; that is, carrying out the activity for a longer period of time. This is the time when your son develops the self-determination to continue in the activity by taking in all responsibility associated with it If this does not occur, then it is the parent -not the child- who is persevering.

3. Determination: At this stage, your child needs to set a goal for himself within the framework of the activity. This could be a long-term-term goal, such as, “Improve my free-throw percentage in basketball.” Whatever the goal, it should have an endpoint that offers your child a challenge and a chance to determine whether his goal is the one he really wants to achieve. This stage is the longest, and must have a due date for discussion.

At discussion time, your son may determine that it is time to quit – something that can happen at any assessment time – or he may decide that he is willing to fully comment, either continuing toward his stated goal s or changing his goals slightly.

Even once this commitment has taken place, continue to set assessment times to review how your child is doing and determine whether the activity continues to be attractive and valuable in his life.


Yvonne Fournier
Dr. Yvonne Fournier has been a pharmacist, public health administrator, demographer and entrepreneur. She has followed her own roadmap in becoming arguably one of the most prolific of educators and child advocates in America today.