This Parenting Pitfall Can Have a Lifelong Social Impact

Photo by Hunter Johnson on Unsplash


There are two things virtually every parent can agree on – it’s incredibly rewarding to be a parent, and it’s incredibly hard to know what to do all the time.

We’re raised a certain way ourselves, are influenced by our own environments, friends and family, and sometimes just “wing it” – especially when we just aren’t seeing results.

Yes, parenting can be frustrating and we all make mistakes along the way, but there are several ways to learn how to provide consistency and grow respect – especially by avoiding this common pitfall.

Making threats is never going to yield positive results from our kids, and most of the time, these threats are just going to blow up in our faces because, if we’re honest, we have no intention of following through on them.

Empty threats are just that – things we tell our kids when they just don’t seem to be listening, but that are impractical to carry out or really have nothing to do with the action or behavior we’re demanding.

For example, something like, “If you don’t clean up this room right now, I’m throwing everything in the trash!”

We’ve probably all said this a time or two to our kids, but are we really going to follow through and throw away everything they own?  Not likely — and the biggest problem with this type of threat is that they know it.

We want our kids to respect our authority, but sometimes we get so frustrated with what we perceive as them ignoring us or disrespecting our rules that we just say the first thing that pops into our heads instead of looking for the root cause.

And the root cause of kids disobeying or acting out or refusing to do what we ask often circles back to these empty threats.

When kids are raised with consistent rules and realistic consequences that parents follow through on, they accept and adopt our values and respect our authority.

But empty threats don’t accomplish this.  Instead, kids do not receive consistent consequences for their actions.  Threats of punishment often don’t occur, or they learn to lie or manipulate to avoid punishment.

A very important aspect of appropriate consequences is that the consequence must be related to the action, or lack of action, that we are trying to correct.

A commonly used inappropriate consequence is something like, “If you don’t pick up your toys, you won’t get dessert.”  The problem is dessert has nothing at all to do with the fact that they left a mess on the floor.  A more appropriate consequence would be to temporarily take that toy or toys away until they show responsibility for caring for their possessions.

Fatherly recently reported on the difference between “punishments” and “consequences.”

True consequences teach, but punishments are often unrelated to the behavior, ineffective, or unreasonable.

A reasonable consequence will first be age-appropriate.  We all know we must discipline a preschooler differently than a teenager.

Then, a related consequence must have something to do with – teach a lesson about – the behavior or action we’re addressing as parents, as in the example above about taking away dessert.  (And, remember, food should never be related to behavioral discipline in the first place).

Reasonable means following that old saying, “The punishment fits the crime.”  While it’s not “punishment” we’re talking about, the consequence must be appropriate to the “offense.”

For example, when a child does not pick up their toys and put them away, it is unreasonable to make them put away their toys and clean the rest of the house.  It’s unreasonable to add to the consequences just because we are frustrated.

Reasonable, age-appropriate consequences teach kids why we are insisting on their change of behavior or why we are asking them to do something.

And with young children, it’s always helpful to explain instead of just giving them the old “because I said so.”

A preschooler may be more likely to pick up their toys when they understand that someone could trip and get hurt if they are left on the floor, or that their toys may get broken, or even that keeping the house tidy helps everyone stay organized and feel good.

Psychologist Dr. Nancy Darling tells Fatherly, “…consequences should be explicit and related to the values a parent hopes their child will internalize: honesty, kindness, integrity, and safety.”

And when we address behaviors with our children and explain the reasons backed up with appropriate consequences, they are more apt to take that information in and realize that it’s reasonable.

When we do this from a young age, they “internalize” these values and traits – and it becomes second nature, knowing the consequences will be implemented.

We often hear, “Do as I say, not as I do.” But the opposite is true for raising kids who respect us and others, as well as themselves.

Modeling how we want our kids to act and behave is the most important influence of all.

The reason empty threats don’t work is not only because we don’t usually follow through, therein teaching our kids they can “get away with it,” but it teaches that fear instills respect.

Children want to feel safe, loved, and secure – and empty threats chip away at these feelings by belittling or bullying instead of earning our kids respect.

And, yes, we should earn our children’s respect, because parenting by fear and intimidation will only lead to damaging behaviors that erode the parent/child relationship over time.

So next time you’re beyond frustrated with your child not doing what you ask, stop and think.  Sit down and explain, set forth appropriate expectations, and enforce related and reasonable consequences.

An empty threat will yield an empty result – both in the short and long-term.