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Our Favourite Ways to Handle Threats and Follow-Through

If you don't pick up your toys, I'll give them to someone who'll appreciate them. Eat your dinner or you'll have it for breakfast. If you don't stop fighting with your sister, we'll leave you here

 

While these statements might be true, the problem is when you make threats that you can't or won't follow through with, you undermine your authority and your children learn that they can get away with ignoring your requests.

Nancy Darling from Psychology Today states "Laying out clear standards of behaviours is good parenting. Letting kids face the consequences of their actions and punishing them when they misbehave is a necessary part of teaching. Empty threats teach kids to misbehave."

How many times have you issued a threat, and then not followed through to the consequence? Every time you don't implement the consequence you make it harder to influence your child's behaviour.

Rather than thinking of what you are doing as issuing a threat, think if it as offering your child a choice between one action and a consequence and another.

Threats and follow-through in practice

A nanny had taken her charges to the park. They decided to climb to the top of the playground, and refused to come down, even though the smallest one had a birthday party to go to. After a few attempts at negotiations she gave them a choice, come down now, or no birthday party. They stayed at the top.

She sat down and watched them, 20 minutes later and still no children, she offered another choice. Come down now, or they wouldn't come back to that playground again. It was harsh, but it was feasible.

After another 20 minutes the littlest one needed the loo, so they came down. To this day they have NEVER been back to that park, they've been to other ones, but not that one. But, the children learned a lesson, she was serious, and would follow through with the consequences to their actions. Now when she offers them a choice, they make the decision they can live with.

There are lots of reasons why we don't follow through; the consequence is dangerous, the consequence isn't feasible, everyone suffers or we feel like we are being mean. Remember every child and every situation is different, so only you will know the kinds of consequences that will really work for you.

Ways to make consequences work

There are lots of reasons why we don't follow through; the consequence is dangerous, the consequence isn't feasible, everyone suffers or we feel like we are being mean. Remember every child and every situation is different, so only you will know the kinds of consequences that will really work for you.

1. Realistic consequences

Have you ever told your child if they don't finish their dinner you'll start sending their food to starving children in Africa? Most people have, in the heat of the moment; it's a case of thinking before you issue the consequence.

Are you really going to wrap up their food and send it off to a child in Africa? Probably not. But it is important to find a way to make them realise that by not eating the food they are offered, they are wasting your time and money. Why not have them buy food for a food bank with their weekly pocket money, instead of buying sweets or toys for themselves.

2. Related consequences

Finding a consequence that fits the behaviour is important as well. If you tell a child that they have to wash the dishes because they were fighting with their brother, the two things have nothing to do with one another. Find something that they have to do for each other, or together if you want to drill the lesson further home.

3. Timely consequences

Telling a child that if they don't clean their room they can't go to a friend's house next week leaves a big gap in the effect of the consequence. By the time next week comes around:

  1. You'll both have forgotten the threat was on the table or
  2. Your child won't link the consequence to the original behaviour.

Take a 3 year old who is playing up before bed, the consequence is that there is less time to read stories. This only works IF you've told them how many stories they can have before bath time. If you've said they can have three, and the protestations start, the option is if you get out of the bath now we'll still be able to have three stories, if you don't get out now, we'll lose 1 - the choice is yours.

The consequence directly follows the unwanted action.

4. Avoiding danger

Telling your children you are going to leave them at the side of the road if they don't stop their bickering is never going to happen. You aren't going to drop your children off, and drive off. But, saying you'll turn around and send them straight to their rooms instead of going to their play dates is safe, IF you are willing to follow through with it.

 

 
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Dan, Central London