Be consistent and realistic. That’s the basis of all parenting advice, right? Seems simple enough. Never make an idle threat.
I took a parenting class in high school, easy peasy. I can still hear the words of parenting expert Barbara Colorosa from the video our teacher made us watch – “Be firm but fair.” And especially remember your follow-through.
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Never make a threat you can’t keep, that’s just setting you all up for failure.
No problem, Barbara, I got this. I’m seventeen and childless – I’m the best parent in the world.
Barbara suggested instead that you offer your child two fixed choices, like, “Do you want to wear your red pajamas or your blue pajamas” instead of simply commanding your child get dressed for bed. You’re a genius, Barbara!
Then I actually had kids, and learned this works if you have exceptionally stupid children I guess. Mine simply said, “…neither.” And so now I threaten my kids.
I’d like to say that my threats are all rational, logical consequences that I can absolutely carry out.
But then I once yelled through the bathroom door at my fighting children that if I had to get off the toilet to deal with them, I would wipe shit on everybody. I did not follow through on that threat.
But there is method to the madness of an idle threat. There are steps before you reach the point of declaring that if they don’t knock it off, there will be no T.V. until they are thirty-five (you mean it, you will drive to their house, push past their spouse, and steal their fucking television set if you have to, dammit.)
Here are 13 Steps to making an idle threat
Step one: Ask your child nicely but firmly to do (or not do) something. “Please get your shoes on.” “Take your finger out of your brother’s nose.” Reasonable requests.
Step two: Ask again, without the please.
Step three: Ask again, but more of a demand this time, and also sort of growl it.
Step four: Add swear words.
Step five: Yell.
Step six: Yell their name, but screw up which kid you are talking to, then repeat the yell with the correct name.
Step seven: Pause.
Step eight: Legitimately wonder if you are making audible sounds that other humans can actually hear.
Step nine: Consider how important this thing really is. Okay, so they are punching each other – but maybe this is a life lesson.
Step ten: Yell the completely fictitious, will never happen ever threat. “If you don’t stop I swear I will take every single toy you own, break them, make you fix them, and then I’m going to give them to the neighbour’s kids, and every day after school we will go over to their house and you will sit there and watch them play with your toys, don’t make me do it, because I swear to fuck I will do it!”
Step eleven: Have a moment where you all stare at each other and share a moment of silence to recognize how ridiculous that statement just was.
Step twelve: If you are lucky, your kids will take pity on you and listen, even knowing you are full of shit.
Step thirteen: If all else fails, start to count.
Take that, Barb.