Threatening your children is almost never a good idea. First of all, you’re teaching them a skill you don’t really want them to have: the ability to use brute force or superior cunning to get what they want, even when the other person isn’t willing to cooperate.
Secondly, you’re putting yourself in an awkward position in which you either have to follow through on your threats—exacting a punishment you threatened in the heat of your anger—or you have to back down, teaching your child that your threats are meaningless. Either way, you’re not getting the result you want and you’re damaging your relation with your child. And there is that bitter taste in your mouth, I’m sure you know what I’m talking about, right?
While it can be difficult to resist the urge to threaten, try sharing vulnerably and redirecting to something more appropriate instead. “It’s NOT OK to hit your brother. I’m worried that he will get hurt, or he’ll retaliate and hurt you. If you’re mad, you may punch a pillow, the couch or the bed.”
By offering an alternative that is safer yet still allows the child to express her feelings you’re validating her emotions even as you set a clear boundary for her behavior. This will ultimately lead to better self-control and emotional wellbeing for your child.
When I was a child, not so long ago, my grandma used to threaten us with “The Old Man with the Bag” who comes and takes the kids that misbehave. Well, you can imagine the nightmares and dark thoughts trying to picture this evil guy who might come and take me, or my brother, forever.
Some threats are a little less intense. For example, “You won’t get ice-cream,” “I’ll call the police,” or “I’ll tell your dad,” only to forget later and give your child ice-cream and….. Well, you get the idea. Try instead “When you finish your homework you can watch TV;” “If you guys play nicely you can have ice-cream;” or “You cleaned your room, I’ll call your daddy at work, he’ll be so proud of you.” As discussed in previous blogs, praise and rewards go a long way.
Try to avoid aversive techniques of discipline, including loss of privileges and any other way to cause emotional or psychological suffering. In your quest to raise your kids you’ll be ahead of the game because motivation and love are the most powerful tools of discipline.
For the record, I found out that there is no “Old Man with a Bag.”
Daniel Adatto, BCBA