Empty Threats: What To Do Next

parent-making-empty-threatsYou know how you sometimes make empty threats which you have no intention of carrying out? They just pop out before you realise what you’re saying and your next thought is ‘Oh shit.’

Like this:

I’ll take all your toys down to the charity shop and give them all away.

I’ll put you out of the car onto the hard shoulder and drive off without you.

Right that’s the last time you get any sweets from me.

I’ll leave you in the park all by yourself.

And then there are the threats you make and instantly regret because it’s something you were really looking forward to or it’s something that will actually cause you far more inconvenience than them. The times when you think ‘I’ve just made life much more difficult for me’ or ‘I have just punished myself.’ Like these:

Right, we’re not going to see the film.

You’ll go straight to bed, you’re not staying up to watch the Eurovision Song Contest.

No more telly for you for the rest of the week.

OK we’ll stay in all day.

You can’t go to your friend’s house.

You’re grounded.

Unless we are perfect, we will inevitably end up making empty threats now and again. We then either fail to carry it out and never refer to it again, hoping they didn’t notice, or we feel compelled to follow it through because otherwise we will lose all credibility.

I think it’s possible to get out of  empty threats with integrity and authority intact though. What we need is a back-up plan. My favourite way is to revert straight to honesty, sometimes combined with a healthy dose of humour at the expense of myself:

Well I obviously didn’t mean THAT, it just popped out because I’m feeling cross.

Strike that, let’s rewind and start again.

I actually don’t want to carry that through now I think about it.

Clearly what I just said is ridiculous, forget I ever said it.

Hmm…I seem to have just made a threat I have no intention of carrying out…

It’s amazing how children appreciate a bit of honesty (or maybe not surprising at all) and sometimes you just get instant understanding. You build complicity with a child when you’re prepared to laugh at yourself, it’s always credit in the bank.

You could then replace the threat with what you were intending to say all along, before you got overtaken by end-of-my-tether-ness, and your child will be more willing to listen. But sometimes just a rolling-eyed admission of your own fallibility shifts the dynamic into willing cooperation all by itself.

4 Responses

  1. Sally
    | Reply

    Ah yes – great post. This one comes up literally every week in therapy with parents who are perplexed by kids not taking them seriously. Will share

  2. Margaret Haynes
    | Reply

    Great ideas Stephanie.
    (btw yes I am in SE Herts)

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