It can happen anywhere. In the home, on the school run, a friend’s home, in the middle of the supermarket … absolutely anywhere. And it happens to us all, usually out of desperation and a final resort attempt to restore peace (and sanity) to a situation. And it is often either immediately preceded or followed by a bribe of some description. If you’re a parent, you know what I’m talking about by now …
The empty threat!
Ok, I know it’s not a recommended parenting technique, and I am certainly not praising it as something every parent should try. I am, however, acknowledging the fact that I’ve been there, and I know I’m not alone!
That day we were running behind on the school run and Harry decides he doesn’t really feel like going to school today, I may have told him he had precisely 30 seconds to get his shoes on or I was leaving him behind.
There was the day the kids spent the day, determined to turn the house upside down, leaving more toys on the floor of several rooms than I even knew they owned and suddenly developing a terrible tummy ache and losing all physical use of their legs when asked to pick them up, when I may have told them that if they refused to tidy the toys, I would gather them in bags and put them all in the bin.
Or the time I stepped on yet another LEGO brick on the stairs and told the kids that every single piece was being given away to children that were better at caring for their things.
Then, following an hour of listening to the kids bickering about the most trivial of topics on our way home from a family holiday, I might have told them that if they didn’t stop immediately that we would stop at the side of the road and let them walk the rest of the 100-mile journey.
And when either of them are refusing to do their homework, I have been known to tell them that if they don’t complete it, their teachers would hold them back a year or that I had their teachers numbers on speed dial and would call them.
Yes, every one of these is an empty threat, and no, I don’t think they are a smart way of parenting. I do, however, believe that they are a real part of parenting and to suggest that they are not used commonly, often without a thought given to possible comebacks, would be far from authentic.
Parenting is all about the good, the bad and the ugly, and when your child is running around the aisles of the supermarket like the floor really is lava, or they decide they would rather brush the walls with toothpaste rather than allowing any to touch their teeth, desperation takes over all rational thinking, and if the only way to make yourself heard in that moment is by making them consider the weekend without that birthday party they’ve been excited about or to imagine their favourite toy being put into the bin, then sometimes it feels necessary.
They do backfire, yes. Which is why they are not ideal to use. But empty threats are a thing that are very much part of family life. Why? Because we threaten the worst in the hope it will change the situation … but do we really want to inflict that sadness onto our children? Of course, we don’t! Which is why they are empty threats.
Writing this has made me decide I will make a conscious effort from today to make my use of empty threats less frequent.
We can have consequences and conditions that are much more realistic and manageable. As the kids are getting older, they are starting to understand what I will go through with and what I won’t, so I think it’s time to up my game and to jump one step ahead of them again!
What are some of the empty threats you use?
What techniques do you like to adopt in the place of empty threats?
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