Empty threats are a waste of time and energy, but it's a strong parent who can go without ever making one.
“If you don’t get dressed this second, I’ll take you to school in your pyjamas!” I threatened my six year old. The dressing process had been prompted for half an hour prior to letting that pearler slide out.
He hummed away, leisurely layering school uniform items over his underwear.
'Eat your pumpkin or we’ll send it to the starving children in Africa!' I never did see that leftover pumpkin being scraped into an envelope
He knew, just as I did, what an empty threat it was. He was completely confident that I did not have the balls to pile him into the car in his boxer shorts and drop him, humiliated and embarrassed, at the school gate.
Smoke and mirrors. More bark than bite. The old parenting nugget: empty threats.
I make a concerted effort to keep the empty threat weaponry safely tucked away, because we all know that used too often it's a precarious tool that ultimately undermines discipline. Kids are bright sparks and learn faster than the speed of light when we're pulling a mickey. It doesn’t mean the odd grenade doesn’t slip its clip when I’m tired or at the end of my repetitive tether though.
Here are some of my favourites:
“If you continue that behaviour, you won’t be going to X’s party.”
A party that you’ve already RSVP’d to, the present is bought, and the child is dressed and ready to go. It takes a strong person to stick to that threat.
“If you’re too tired to walk, I guess you’ll be sleeping here the night."
Child abandonment? Tempting but unlikely.
“If you don’t stop screaming, you’ll be spending the day in the car.”
Illegal? Health hazard at the very minimum.
“If you can’t pick up your toys, I’ll give them to someone who will.”
This I have done. Once. The trusty garbage bag, with one dramatic, rustling shake, had them clamouring to clean up the strewn toys quicker than you could say Salvos.
We’re all guilty of the threat we'll never execute. Perhaps it’s a hangover from our own childhood when the empty threat seemed to be a generational favourite. Here’s some from my past that make me chuckle as an adult.
"Wait til your father gets home!"
My mum never used this but I heard other mums threaten their children with it. There was an air of pointlessness about it, particularly if the threat was bandied about in the early hours of the day. Aside from the idea that the consequence would not be delivered until hours later, what about poor dad, who walks in the door and cops a tirade from the exhausted mother, and then is expected to give said child some kind of walloping?
"I’ll get out the wooden spoon!"
Or hairbrush, or other hard object that got waved around in the air, threatening a potential smack that never happened because we could either run faster or win mum over with an apology and a smile.
"You have a sore leg? Let’s chop it off then!"
This either received horrified gasps or indifferent shrugs. Would someone really chop off a sore leg to solve the pain problem? Even kids know better than that.
“Eat your pumpkin or we’ll send it to the starving children in Africa!”
My all-time personal favourite. I was more than happy to have that pumpkin shipped off to a faraway country for someone else to consume. A hungry child? All the better. Seemed like a win-win situation. But I never witnessed that leftover pumpkin being scraped into an envelope.
Idle threats, experts say, are a loss of parenting control. So, being the self-confessed control freak that I am, I’ve consciously changed my tune. I still make mock threats, but now I try to turn them into games. “If you're not dressed in five minutes, I'll be coming in to put your underwear on your head, and your socks on your ears!” This removes some of the frustration and changes the focus, so the end result is the same – a dressed child - but the process to get there is significantly less painful for both parties.
What’s your best (or worst) empty threat? Have you learnt strategies to deal with some of the frustrations that go with these empty threats? have your say in the Essential Baby forum.