Here are some common phrases mothers use on their kids that don’t actually work.
You know that feeling…
The accelerated heartbeat. The adrenaline rush. The dread that your children are going to do exactly what you do not want them to do. And that you’re going to have to do something about it.
“Oh no,” you think, “Right here in the cereal aisle, he’s going to bite his brother.”
You know the signs, you can see it coming.
You also know that these behaviors need consequences and follow through if you ever want them to end. But this whole consequence business is draining, tedious, and requires discipline on our own part.
So what’s the easier solution?
A well said threat can – temporarily – change our children’s course of action and bring much needed peace. Peace that doesn’t require us to time out, time in, or take away a privilege.
A threat buys us a bit of time to get the cereal and get out of the store before all Hades breaks loose.
This is why threats are so appealing… they make us feel like we’re getting a good result without much work.
Why We Threaten:
- To stop bad behaviors before they occur.
- To gain control of an out of control situation.
- To scare the kids into listening.
- To warm them of the upcoming consequences for their poor choices.
The trouble with threats is this… they are only good short-term. Very very short term. Threats manage to gain some level of cooperation in the moment, but they are like Lay’s potato chips… you can never make just one.
Because when we threaten our children we don’t teach them to depend on their own brain, we teach them to depend on ours.
The only way children learn to make good decisions is if they learn to think about their decisions.
Threats are a parents way of trying to solve problems ourselves. We don’t want our kids to experience a consequence for a bad decision (or we don’t want to have to give them one) so we threaten.
Instead of giving our children the chance to make their own choices and live with the results, we take control.
The 4 Threats Every Parent Makes — And Why They Don’t Work
No one is above blurting out these threats… but here is why they don’t end up working the way you’d imagined.
Read: 5 Parenting Skills That Help Raise Stable, Well-Adjusted Kids
“You’re Gonna Get In Big Trouble”
Here’s a simple but hard truth for us mothers… yelling is not big trouble.
Yelling is momentarily uncomfortable for our children and creates a breach in relationship but without the added benefit of improving our children’s behavior. In fact, when we become angry moms we prevent our children from thinking about their own choices and its consequences. Why?
Because our anger is taking center stage.
The time when our little ones need to have a consequence for their poor choice is now. Not later on. And, contrary to what we often believe, kids don’t respond to fear of punishment. They respond to actual boundaries.
In our noble effort to teach good decision making we delay or threaten consequences. This sends a message to our kids that while we want them to do something, we aren’t actually going to make them.
Read: 30+ Consequences For Misbehavior
“Wait Til Your Father Gets Home”
When a mother says, “You wait until your father gets home!” what she really means is “I need to wait until your father gets home.”
As they say in Love and Logic®, your child is smarter than the family dog and even the family dog knows who is in control. Even if your husband is the stronger disciplinarian, waiting until he comes home to address a negative behavior will not have its desired effect.
If mom wants a child to obey, mom needs to enforce family limits.
My dad says he remembers the moment he knew he didn’t have to mind his mother. He was running down the hallway away from her when she yelled, “Wait until your father gets home.”
Even as a child he knew that meant he might get in trouble at night… but he had all day to do what he wanted.
Check off critical household, social, and hygiene skills for your child so they’re prepared (not petrified) of growing up!
“Don’t Make Me…”
Your children are being too loud so you yell, “Don’t make me come back there!” and think they’ll quiet down. This is communicating the wrong message. This is saying to your child that their behavior is making you do all kinds of mean or uncomfortable things.
Know why this isn’t wise?
Because their poor choices should make life hard for them, not hard for you.
Calm moms know that when a children acts in a negative way, it should become their own problem.
When the only person inconvenienced by our children’s poor choices is us we’re not disciplining our children, we’re punishing ourselves.
Read: The 3 Word Rebuke That Will Give Your Kid Issues
We parents love to threaten so our kids avoid consequences. Instead of trying to control our kids’ behavior with threats, we should teach them to live with their choices and thus learn to make good ones. This is loving discipline.
Parents gain control by giving away the control they don’t need. Love and Logic®
You aren’t in control of how your children act. You aren’t in control of how they think. But you can help your children learn to make good choices by giving them clear consequences for their choices.
This is the only way children learn to ask themselves a question every responsible person should be asking… “How will my next choice affect my life?”
I’ve been thinking about this a lot… I’m in a shared custody situation and the other party is just not on board with keeping the same strong boundaries; whereas before if I counted to three, or enforced a consequence due to negative behaviour, as the days went on the behaviour improved. Not so anymore. Now it feels like she’s constantly requiring comfort and the stability of mama and so enforcing consequences just doesn’t really happen anymore. If things get too overwhelming, she gets sent to quiet time. That’s all. In fact, she starts screaming back “no!” if I count to three or if I try to send her to time out. It’s exhausting.
Thank you, I love how you keep putting in the reminder that a calm mum is one who follows through and sees behaviours as the kids to learn to navigate, not the parents responsibility because it’s so easy to forget some days.
Rachel Norman says
Amybeth, it sounds like an exhausting situation for you doing things one way in your own home then having them done differently elsewhere. You sound like an amazing mom!
Anna Kate says
Such a good article — thank you for sharing! With all the love in my heart… *whispers* There’s a typo in your title. ? You had it right in your email subject though! I think you meant to put “3” instead of “4.”
I so deeply appreciate your blog! Your posts have come at timely moments over and over again. Thank you!
Rachel Norman says
BETTY HITTENBERGER says
Dear Rachel, I am going to check to see if,Megan, my daughter-in-love, gets your blogs. She ordered something from you, so I think she is! Yay! xoxo >(:
Great article! Thanks for sharing. Although I don’t use those exact phrases I do start to yell…I think your explanation on why it doesn’t work is great, not to mention I would really love for my kids to be able to think for themselves about their actions and consequences
Oh so timely! My 3 year old and I are both sick, i’m trying to wean my 9 month old from night feeds so not getting a lot of sleep… and i’m def not parenting my best right now!! I may have missed it, but it would be great to read some examples of what do do instead of threats? I understand everything you say, but when tired and faced with an exhausting and cheeky toddler, I can’t always think of something more appropriate!! Thanks Rachel, loving reading your stuff. X
I heard this really great piece of advice from Brene Brown. One trick is to reframe the “threat” to a positive. For example, instead of saying “If you don’t turn off the TV, you won’t get any more screen time” you can say “If you would like more screen time tomorrow, you need to turn off the TV now.”
Or, you could also offer “choices” with their consequences. For example, “You can continue screaming, but that means you will have a time out after. Or you can stop screaming, apologize, and we can continue playing. Which would you like to do?”.
As with any change in our own behaviour (because this is what we’re doing here), it takes time so be patient with yourself :). Start by becoming aware of when you make threats (bed time, during meals etc) and then start practicing a new way!