How many times have you threatened your kids with a consequence, only to not actually enforce it? Learn how and why to avoid saying empty threats.
The other day, I told my kids, “If you don’t stop that, we’re not going to the park!”
But instead of instant submission, or even a pause of recognition, they refused to comply. One probable reason they didn’t listen? I became the parent who cried wolf.
How to avoid saying empty threats
But there is a way to get kids to behave, all without blasting empty threats. Our kids may not always be “model children,” but they’ll likely listen with a few tweaks.
Explain why their behavior isn’t acceptable
Explain why the behavior is wrong. I’ve noticed with my child that giving a reason makes him not “take it personally.” We’re telling him to stop not because of him as a person or even us as his parents. But because of a logical reason outside himself.
Redirect their actions to something more appropriate
“Watch this!” my four-year-old exclaimed, as he spun around a few inches away from his baby brother.
“Spin over here,” I tell him, pointing to an area in the living room with no babies nearby for him to trip over.
Telling him to stop spinning makes it seem like the action—spinning—is wrong. It isn’t, just as jumping or yelling or rough housing aren’t. These actions need appropriate situations, and spinning near an 11-month-old isn’t one of them.
Give natural consequences
When doling out consequences, stick to those that tie in to the misdeed. Let’s say your child continues to sprinkle play dough bits all over the floor. Taking away his play dough for the day would make more of an impact than taking away his favorite fire truck.
Follow through with consequences
Kids ignore us because they’ve heard us say the same threats over and over. And know that we won’t actually enforce them. They stop taking us seriously.
Instead, follow through with the consequences. Keep your word, no matter how inconvenient leaving the grocery may be. Or confiscating his toy. Or cancel plans to the park.
Stick to doable consequences
Telling your child you’re going to take away all his toys may not be the best idea if you don’t plan to empty his room. And threatening not to take him on your next vacation is untrue when you know you’re not going to do that.
We’re tempted to paint these grand consequences hoping they’ll convince our kids to behave. It may have even worked a few times in the beginning. But after a while, they’ll catch on and won’t take us seriously.
Instead, choose simple consequences you can enforce. If you don’t want to leave the family party because of his outburst, remove him from the crowd instead.
Avoid numbered warnings
“When I count to three, you had better stop it.”
I’m not a fan of the 1-2-3 warning method. If kids are misbehaving or need to listen to their parents, they need to do so without three “grace periods.” Counting to three minimizes the necessity or the gravity of what the kids are doing.
And counting leads kids to think they have three opportunities to misbehave. Or they don’t have to listen until you announce the final warning.
A more effective approach would be to give them a “heads up.” If you plan to leave the park, let your kids know you’ll be leaving in 10 minutes. They’ll transition smoothly when you don’t announce leaving all of a sudden.
If your kids don’t listen, just stop the action—no need for counting. If they’re throwing food, don’t say, “I’m going to count to three and you better stop throwing food by then.”
Instead, do something else so they stop throwing the food. Take away the food or remove them away from the table. Your swift action will send the message that you have zero tolerance for throwing food on the floor.
The risk of blasting empty threats rises the more they’re used. We’ll be far more productive working with our kids on their underlying issues. Maybe your child’s latest antics are mirroring the stress she feels from recent changes. Or her hunger and fatigue. Or even her own, normal development.
Get more tips on disciplining your child:
- It’s Not Too Late: How to Unspoil Your Child
- How to Stop Kids from Talking Back to You
- Why Spanking Your Child Isn’t Necessary (And What to Do Instead)
- How to Get Your Child to Listen to You
- What to Do when You Tell Your Kids No Too Often
Do you find yourself guilty of saying empty threats? What are your effective ways to curb disobedience? Let us know in the comments!