idle threats are your children's playground

>> Tuesday, January 13, 2009

If you are a parent, congratulations!  Soon you will see that you are a better teacher than you ever thought.  Kids are very smart and learn whatever we teach them, intentional or not (think grown up words).  For example, if we freak every time they fall down, they learn it's a surefire way to get our attention.  If we give in when they freak, they learn that to freak is to win.

The same goes with idle threats.  If we tell them we'll take something away that we really can't, they learn our threats don't matter.  I can't tell you how many times I've heard parents, including my own,  make idle or unreasonable threats.  Here is just a few off the top of my head:

  • "We won't go to grandma's if you don' t stop"
  • "No more candy if you don't start listening"
  • "Well, maybe just this one time..."
  • "OK, but this is the last time..."
  • "If you do that one more time, I'm canceling your party!"
  • "How would you like it if I bit you?"
  • "If you don't eat your vegetables, you won't grow strong."
  • "Keep it up and we're going home [from Disney world]" 
  • "I'm calling Santa..."

I know that in each of these situations, parents mean well.  Sometimes parents will threaten to take something away that will affect them, too.  But I think if they just had more tricks in their bag, they wouldn't need these idle threats.

Take it away
I like the take it away approach if I am mad enough.  If my kids are not behaving responsibly, I tell them to shape up or lose the toy, game or TV.  So, here's how my non-idle threat would sound:

"Stop fighting over the remote or you-all are done with the TV."

Of course, if I am enjoying the TV show with them, I wouldn't take 
that away, instead I would say:

"Stop fighting over the remote or you-all are done with it and I 
may change it to the sewing channel"

OK, so anyone who has seen the holes in my socks knows the sewing 
channel threat is a bit idle, but taking the remote away is not.

Earn it back
Many parents have complained that there's nothing left to take away.  
Ah-ha! Now is the time to get good behavior going to earn it all back.  
What I might say, is:

* "I'm looking for good behavior so you can earn a show tonight."  
* "If you behave in this store, you'll earn you're leapster back.
* "First clean up your room, then you'll earn back your MP3 

Am I talking about bribing?
OK can I settle this once and for all? As adults, we earn paychecks for 
working.  We earn promotions and awards for going above and 
beyond. We are rewarded for our work ethic, which of course includes
how we act.

Now, bribery, as I understand it, is when we pay someone for doing 
something bad for us. For example, if I offer the driver's license 
examiner $20 to pass me, I might end up jail. That would be a 
consequence, not a reward. If I offer the bouncer money to let me 
in without checking my ID, that would be wrong, too.

Just for the record, I would never, ever do these kind of things, even 
if I was a dumb teenager who watched too many crime shows. Never.

Observe how well your kids respond to your threats. If they respond, 
great, you are probably not making idle threats. But if they 
practically yawn at you while you list all the toys they'll never get 
for their birthday, you've got some work to do. And just a non-idle 
threat to you: if you don't think it is a big deal now, imagine 
(shudder, gasp) teenagers!

Seriously, try to make the threats honest. Also, don't punish yourself 
with your threats. It's hard enough being a parent without having to 
take things away from ourselves. That's what diets are for.


Coachdad January 13, 2009 at 5:43 PM  

Wow...very informative. I have read a number of parenting books and you can never learn enough. The hard part for me at times is remaining patient.