Empty Threats

LATELY I’ve been running on empty. Of the threat kind, that is. Somehow my parenting has morphed into a series of ‘If you do that, then this will happen’ tactics in an attempt to stop certain behaviours. A very poor attempt. Of course, the ‘this will happen’ part is rarely carried out – the main reason being because the threat is usually so inflated and preposterous that it’s pretty much impossible.

The thing is, sometimes, an empty threat is all I’ve got. On occasion when the sticker chart isn’t working and the behaviour is so revolting, I find myself thinking up consequences for actions and making them sound realistic even to the point where I think I am going to follow through. I hardly ever do of course and in fact this is usually what happens:

1. THREAT: You’re not coming on the holiday.

Oh but there they are on the plane. Always sat next to ME.

2. THREAT: No TV ever again.


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Thirty minutes later, it’s a Peppa Pigathon.

3. THREAT: That’s it you’re grounded for two weeks.

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Until tomorrow when you go out for tea so I can food shop.

4. THREAT: All fun is cancelled.

Usually it involves a caf� and a gossip for me, so errrr no.

5. THREAT: Santa on speed dial.

Funny how there are always lashings of pressies on Christmas morning.

Over the past few weeks there have been some classics – offering hairbrush or scissors, not buying clothes until they learn to put away, eat dinner or it goes in the bin (actually I’ve done that), if you tip your milk again I will drive you to the farm to milk the cow and, daily, off we go to school with you in your underwear.

Ah, empty threats. They’re part of the parenting that we know shouldn’t happen, but then just does. They belong to the same category as crisps for breakfast, TV so we can text and doing their homework for them. It’s something the experts warn us against because, actually, they don’t really work. But most of us have been guilty at one time or another of making an empty threat.

Lately, parenting has turned into one big test of what we should and shouldn’t do. There are so many ways to stuff it up and, as a mother of three, I get to triple the fail. Oh don’t get me wrong, I do plenty of the good stuff so, at the moment, I don’t really care as long as the odd empty threat gets me the result I want.

The downside of course is that children learn very quickly not to believe the empty threats. In fact, it probably shows them that I’m feeling pretty helpless. It’s hard being consistent as a parent because there are a million different scenarios, things change and hey sometimes I just need a quick-fix solution because I’m at my wits end. And often it works better than a stern approach.

My kids have totally wised up to the empty threats and they think it’s funny. They know I’m unlikely to follow through. But do I think it’s harming them and taking away some trust? Not at all. It amuses them to the point where we usually end up laughing instead of fighting. Empty threats typically end the problem and make us all laugh at the ridiculousness thus bringing some fun into a stressful situation. The laughter diverts the attention from the chosen behaviour quickly. So I’m not particularly worried.

Especially as their future therapy fund remains, you know, somewhat empty.

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