What I Learned When I Stopped Making Empty Threats


I know I’m not the only one who dishes out empty threats. But recently seeing someone follow through with the consequence was eye-opening.

A week ago we went to a birthday party for a darling little 4-year-old. We arrived late because of a previous commitment. By the time we arrived, another mom had already been to the party alone and returned home to her kids.

When I asked about her, the mom hosting the party said, “Her kids were being terrible so she left them at home. She told them she was going to go get some cake before somebody got hurt.”


We all had a good laugh and then I sat there stunned for a minute. She did that?!

She kept her kids home from the party for poor behavior even though they had RSVP’d “yes” and the birthday girl was planning on seeing those friends? And they had a present they had bought at Target and wrapped that day?

Even though her mommy friend had taken the time to painstakingly puff-paint their names onto goodie bags, stuff a piñata, and bake cupcakes on their behalf? Even though she had said they would be there and the hosts would have enjoyed their company?

How many times have my husband and I dropped the “If you don’t . . . we’re not going to go to. . .” and not actually followed through? Hundreds. All empty threats.

We find some stupid loophole (he’s been calm now for 30 seconds!), some justification for allowing them to still go, not wanting to face the intimidating prospect of keeping them home from something and making ourselves look bad for not showing up.

I don’t think I am the only one who is guilty of this.

Mom making empty threats and pointing finger at child having a tantrum
Photo credit: Adobe Photo Stock

Why do we make empty threats? Because we worry about what others will think.

Because we have mommy friends and family friends and cousins and school acquaintances who are counting on us. And because, wouldn’t it be rude not to go when we said we would?

What all this really means is that we care a lot, perhaps too much, about what these people think about us. Will they think less of me as a person or a friend or a mom if I don’t show up with my kids because of their poor behavior?

I fear that sometimes we choose pleasing other adults over teaching our kids responsibility for their actions by delivering consistent, natural consequences when they are needed. I understand that sometimes we have commitments that we really can’t or shouldn’t back out of, no matter our kids’ behavior.

But with negotiable things like birthday parties and mommy group play dates, we do ourselves and our kids a favor when we show them there are real consequences for their misbehavior.

And other parents ought to understand when discipline wins out over social activities.

Just today we had a situation where I had to make a call between pleasing a friend and disciplining my child. We were on our way from preschool to meet up with several moms and kids at a park for lunch.

We had been trying to get together with one of these families for a couple weeks but our schedules had not allowed it. Both my kids and her kids were excited to see each other.

On the drive over, my son began to have a major meltdown. It was about something seemingly insignificant, as it always is, but he would not calm down.

I kept my cool and explained in an even voice that I would be happy to take calm and sweet kids to the park to see their friends and that he would need to calm down if he wanted to go. He continued to rage.

I am sure in his mind he was certain he could have the tantrum, get what he wanted, and then go to the park because we had already set plans. Not the case this time, buddy. As it became clear that he had no intentions of ending the tantrum, I set our course for home.

When we got close our house, he recognized the scenery and cried out that he didn’t want to go home, he wanted to go to the park!

I pulled into the driveway and listened to how he felt and told him “I know” when he expressed how sad and upset he was about it. And that was that. After he had vented his emotion and seen that I was not going to budge on this, his manner quickly changed.

By the time we got inside the house, he was his normal, happy and content self. We ate lunch, read a book, and then started quiet time as usual.

I was a bit shocked by his reaction. I had done it — I had yanked away a social event that we always used in our empty threats.

And he was totally fine. It was not a tantrum for the rest of the day. His little heart did not break into a thousand pieces. He recovered quickly and we moved on with our day.

I texted my friend and explained why we were not going to make it. And I didn’t feel awkward or embarrassed. I did not feel obligated to say sorry. I had done what was best for our family and it felt great.


Allison Maselli believes in pursuing lifelong learning and adventure. Her greatest adventure so far is building a world with her husband for her three energetic cherubs. Any day you might find her trying out a new sourdough recipe, flailing her limbs in a family dance party, or reading for herself or to her kiddos. Follow her on facebook to catch what she writes for different sites around the web.


  1. This farce of empty threats is our life. Thank you for showing that the world won’t end if I follow through on my threats. Hopefully next time I will be able to stand my ground. And I love how the author hit the nail on the head when she said that it’s about us being worried about what others will think of us. Thank you so much for sharing this piece.


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