Are you fond of making empty threats just to make your child stop? Learn why you should avoid making this parenting pitfall.
What can you read in this article?
- Effects of threatening a child and not following through
- Threatening a child with harm – does it help?
- Positive ways how to discipline a child
“If you don’t finish your food, you won’t get any dessert.” or “Kapag hindi ka tumigil, papaluin kita!”
This may sound familiar to you. Your kid does something bad, so you punish them. Then they do something again, but you’re tired. You take the easy way out. You make empty threats, and you think that’s the end of it. The problem here is, it’s not.
In my household, my husband and I always fall into this trap of saying, “If you don’t pack away your toys, I will put them in the trash.” But we never do, because why would we throw away those new toys we spent good money on buying?
Even well-meaning parents make this common mistake of saying things or punishments that they don’t really intend to do. They are just saying those to pressure or scare the kid to comply.
Kids learn many things from their parents, especially from how they are disciplined. But they learn from your empty threats, too. Just not in a good way.
Threatening misbehaving children doesn’t teach them anything good and only sets them up for failure. Why? Because empty threats without any consequences teach them they can get away with whatever they want.
The negative effects of empty threats
“Any empty threat teaches a child that they can get away with things,” said Dr. Nancy Darling, Oberlin College’s Chair of Psychology and author of Thinking About Kids on Psychology Today.
“You’re drawing attention to the punishment and teaching them to be sneaky, lie and avoid punishment.”
According to Darling, the problem with empty threats is incomplete socialization. Best-case scenario, a socialized child accepts and internalizes the values that their parents hold in high regard.
Empty threats disrupt the internalization of those values by implying that rules are inconsistent and can be obeyed or not depending on the context of the situation.
“The most important thing for a kid in any relationship is predictability,” she said. “So the kid knows what the rules are and the kid knows what’s going to happen if they are disobeyed.”
Moreover, empty threats set the stage for an even bigger tantrum or defiance in the future. It also fosters a reward culture and a “what’s in it for me?” mentality.
“When we make threats, we’re telling kids that we don’t think they can behave properly without an external motivation. Most parents want kids to behave because it’s the right thing to do.
But threats encourage kids to weigh the cost / benefit of continuing their behavior versus the threat. In other words, is the threat enough to make me stop my misbehavior?”
And it’s a slippery slope. If your child decides the threat isn’t enough to entice them, then you’ll make bigger threats. Until the threats are completely ridiculous,” said parenting coach I’m With Holly.
Safety in predictability
Children rely on predictability and consistency in order to feel safe and comfortable. That’s why it’s important for parents to have “reasonable consequences for reasonable crimes” according to Darling.
It’s never enough to mete out punishment and just say “because I said so.” What children need to know is why they’re being punished. Parents need to explicitly tell them the reasons for these punishments.
The parents should punish according to the values that they espouse. These may be honesty, kindness, integrity, safety, and compassion. Eventually, kids must learn to internalize these values through the consequences they experience.
“If you have a child who sees rules done consistently, for reasons that are explained, with reasonable consequences that include an explanation, it helps set that internalization,” Darling said.
But empty threats disconnect consequences from the values parents teach. This is because they merely attempt to intimidate (and are just a manifestation of a parent’s ego more than anything else) instead of inform.
Deception in empty threats
So what do the children learn? It just teaches them how to avoid punishment. If that’s their goal, then deception becomes a reasonable next course of action.
It teaches a child to comply not out of respect but out of fear of unreasonable consequences. Because of this inconsistency in enforcing consequences, their compliance will be inconsistent as well. This means they won’t comply when you’re not around, leading to more misbehavior as they age.
“No one offers them a beer in front of you,” Darling said. “No one offers them an opportunity to bully someone when you’re right next to them.”
The importance of a follow-through
Dr. Hansa Bhargava, a pediatrician at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta, agrees that empty threats are common among parents, and their children are aware of it.
“Toddlers and preschoolers can easily pick up the difference between an ’empty threat’ and actual punishment. We really love our children, and we want what’s best for them, but it’s really important to follow through (on punishment),” she told CNN.
One of the negative effects of threatening a child without following through is that the child would not look at the parent as a stable authority figure. They can look at you as someone who’s “wishy washy,” who doesn’t do what she says she’ll do. And when bigger issues arrive as the kids get older, they may not look to you when they need answers.
Moreover, your empty threats will have no bearing, but it will create resentment from the child on the times you actually decide to follow through .
“Consistency is key. If you are not consistent and don’t follow through, they won’t listen, and they won’t be as welcome when you do follow through,” said Dr. Bhargava.
Threatening a child with harm
“Gusto mo paluin kita?”
These words are commonly heard from old-school Pinoy parents who threaten their kids to submission. But did you know that threatening a child with violence is considered emotional abuse?
According to Kids’ Health website, emotional abuse happens when adults caring for a child threaten, put down or reject children, withholding love so the child feels bad about themselves or worthless.
Does that seem like an overreaction? Well, according to Holly, threatening children make them feel incapable or inadequate, and it can have a negative effect on their self-esteem and confidence. We’re also not modelling positive behavior that we want our children to have, such as empathy.
“When we threaten our children, we’re usually angry, and we aren’t truly considering our children’s perspective. We aren’t acknowledging their feelings and desires, which can help promote empathy,” said the parent coach.
So are we suggesting that you follow through when you threaten to hurt your child to comply? NO.
What we’re suggesting in the first place is not to resort to violence in trying to discipline your child and aditionally, refrain from threatening him with harm. Numerous studies show that using violence to discipline a child can do more harm than good.
If you have fallen into the trap of making empty threats before, or actually followed through with violence, know that you can change and instead, try other ways to discipline a child without hitting.
How to discipline toddlers and kids of different ages
Mga magulang, narito ang masamang epekto ng pamamalo sa bata ayon sa pag-aaral
5 ways to deal with an indisciplined child who chooses to ignore you
Positive ways to discipline your child
Image from Shutterstock
Reasonable and consistently enforced rules based on values that parents adopt (practice what you preach, parents!) can help a child understand the value of their family’s togetherness. This practice teaches them respect and trust and helps you form a stronger bond with them using compassion and reason. Furthermore, it shows them that everyone in the family is concerned about every family member.
If you’re so fond of making empty threats to get your child to listen or comply, here are some ways to stop the habit and discipline your child in a non-violent, non-threatening way.
Walk away and revisit later.
If you find yourself wanting to make a threat just to get your child’s attention, take a deep breath and leave the room. Step away from the situation and give yourself a couple of minutes to gather your composure. Dr. Bhargava gives an example for when your child refuses to listen to do during a party.
“It may be wise for parents to ignore the behavior for the time being,” said the doctor. “After the party, go back to your child and talk about happened. Before the next event, let the child know what you expect from them.”
Even us grownups don’t like hearing the words “No” or “Don’t.” What more for kids who can’t regulate their emotions well yet? They will just end up being defensive and defiant, and before you know it, you have a meltdown in your midst. Instead of threatening your child, try encouraging him instead. Holly recommends giving your comments a positive spin.
“If you reframe your message into a positive encouragement, you’re much more likely to get your point across AND get a little cooperation,” she wrote.
Here are some examples of how you can reframe your message: Instead of saying, “If you don’t finish what’s on your plate, you won’t get any ice cream,” try, “When you finish eating your food, we can have ice cream.” Or instead of saying “If you don’t finish your homework, you can’t watch TV,” say “When you finish your homework, we can watch TV together. What show would you like to watch?”
The punishment should fit the crime.
“It’s important to look upon punishment as corrective, not retaliatory. You want to educate your child, not get even with him or her,” said New York Times Bestselling author Vicki Lanski.
Instead of making big, scary threats that are absolutely ridiculous and have nothing to do with what your child did, try scaling it down to a punishment or a consequence that is related to the action, so that it will be easier for you to follow through.
For instance, if your child forgets to pack away her toys, she won’t be allowed to play with it the next day. Or if the child forgets to put her clothes in the laundry basket, she will be in-charge of putting away all the dirty clothes for the whole day. If your child hits another child, remove him from the situation right away and remind her that “we don’t use our hands to hurt.”
Bear in mind that the punishment should also be age-appropriate, and again, refrain from using violence. It’s important to follow through with it as soon as possible, and don’t use the “Just wait til your dad gets home,” or “Wait until your mom hears about this,” line.
If you need more tips on how to discipline your child, read this for an age appropriate discipline chart.
Republished with permission from theAsianParent Singapore.
Additional information by Camille Eusebio