Empty Threats

You’ve probably heard it before, you’re out at the store and there is a mom who is just about at her limit with her screaming child. She finally blows her top and tells the child that they’re never going have candy again if they don’t stop crying. Next thing you know, the kid is picking out a candy bar while waiting in the checkout line. That kid knows how to work the system. I’m talking about empty threats. Everyone does it some time or another. It might be in the heat of the moment and you say they will never get a toy again in their whole life. Yeah, that is probably not going to happen, but I get it, we all have those moments. I’m talking about continually doing that. It’s about keeping credibility with the kids. They need to know that you will do what you say you will do.

I find I have to do this all of the time with the boys. I need to make sure that if I am telling them I’m going to do something, that it’s something I will actually follow through on. Recently, for example, I was trying to get the boys to clean their room. My idea of cleaning and their idea of cleaning are on two totally different planes. The two older boys share a room and it’s not super big to begin with, so naturally, it gets messy fast. But not just messy, it’s gross messy. Used tissues, dirty underwear, it’s bad. I couldn’t take it anymore. I told them if they didn’t clean up I would clean it for them. They knew what that meant. When mom cleans, she throws away. Aden tried to stop me a few times by picking up a few things but it was only the tip of the iceberg. You see, they know that I keep my word because I have done so in the past. Admittedly, I often don’t always mind cleaning their room because it give me a chance to really purge the bad and broken toys out. Or the 500 McDonald’s trinkets. Between broken, no longer used and just plain junk, I usually have at least 1 garbage bag, if not two. So, while it seems that I am really being mean and just throwing all of their toys away, I do have a hidden agenda.

So often when we have gone through this bedroom cleaning process, I have wanted to say that I was throwing everything away and they could not ever have toys again. But let’s be real. Those toys are just as much for me as they are for them! What else is going to keep them entertained while I have to do laundry or cook dinner? What kind of mom would I be if my kids never got to play with Legos again? That just seems wrong. So, I knew I had to use a threat that I would actually carry out. And, usually seeing those garbage bags is enough to remind them that I’m not messing around.

At the risk of sounding like the meanest mom ever, here is the incident that I now remind the boys of that got me my “street cred” as a mom with them. A while back, the boys had each gotten a balloon from somewhere and they were fighting back and forth over them. I had had it. I warned them that if they fought about the balloons one more time I was going to pop them. No more than a minute later, they were fighting again. I grabbed the balloons and popped them with my bare hands. Yes, I know, it’s not that big of a deal popping them with my bare hands. But for two little boys, I may as well have folded an iron rod with my bare hands. They immediately started crying (of course) but they also still talk about that now. I just mention the balloon incident and they know I mean business.

I got tired of hearing people around me tell their children that they were never going to play outside again if they did something or they would never watch TV again, etc. You know you’re not going to stick with that! If you actually do, kudos to you! But your kids know you’re not going to stick with it. Kids are not dumb and they learn to work the system, if you give them a system to work.  I guess I don’t have that kind of will power. When we’re getting ready for vacation and they’re acting up, I’m not going to tell them that they cannot go. I know I’m not staying home from my vacation because this little turd wants to act up! Nope. To prove my point on vacation, we’re all going to get ice cream except for whatever kid was acting up. I will remind him that this was the treat that he’s missing out on, but I am not going to keep him away from the family vacation. That would be a little extreme for a child, but also not fair for whatever parent would have to stay. The first couple of times you do this, it’s not easy but it sure has an impact. For us, it only took a couple of times for the boys to understand that we are going to follow through on what we said we were going to do.

Yes, this all may be pretty harsh. I’m not a perfect parent, but it had come up in conversation recently so I thought it would be interesting to get feedback from other parents. Maybe it varies by child. Perhaps threatening the biggest thing works for some, while simply taking away a snack or a broken toy works for others. I’m interested to see what others do. Have you noticed this before? What do you do? Does anyone else go crazy hearing empty threats from parents- or even when you say them yourselves???

One thought on “Empty Threats

  1. I totally agree with you, Kara. My favorite was one years and years ago when my son was only about 5. The three of us were going on a train trip and there was a mother on the train with her son, about the same age as mine. Granted, he was a little hellion, but I understood why when, at a moment of complete frustration and anger, the mom said, “one more peep out of you and I’m throwing you off this train”. Well, every kid in the world knows your mom isn’t going to risk life in prison for the demise of their 5 year old from throwing them off a train going 65 miles an hour. This is called credibility. And if you can’t do it with your children, don’t be surprised when they return the favor in the future. Good article, Kara (as usual). 😉


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