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Did You Just Threaten Me?


The mother was attempting to get as many things out of the car for the hike as she could. It was 8:30 in the morning and the grandparents were waiting by the hiking trail. Father was getting hiking gear out as well, but seemed to want to stay away from the battle. The boy, maybe 7 or 8 years old, was reading a comic book. He wanted to keep reading the comic book; his mother told him to put it down, voicing herself a little louder each time. Problem was that the child was ignoring her and then begging to take the comic book with him. Mother continued to shout at him, escalating the already uncomfortable event in front of the waiting grandparents. The son groaned again at the thought of putting his comic book aside. Father pleaded with the boy, "Come on son, just out it down, okay buddy?" Mother responded, "If you want, I can leave you with those people over there, those campers with the telescopes. Would you like for them to watch you while I hike with Grandma and Poppa?

This remark from mother and father did not seem to faze the child, and he did not stop arguing while keeping his head down toward the contents of the comic book. What if the child had said: Sure, leave me with those people you and I do not know. Go against everything you ever tried to teach me about strangers and just leave me with them. Have a nice hike. What good would that empty threat be then? And if it is an empty threat, why even use it? Where did you learn to offer these empty threats?

As a parent, if you find that with all your intelligence and wit that you have that you to resort to gimmicks, bribes, and empty threats, then you might want to consider reloading. Your valiant, but hollow efforts, to corral and convince your child is just an ineffective course of action, and conversely, it is painting a picture of you as a person who is confused and rather ineffectual. Believe it or not, children are able to pick up on a parent's sense of insecurity, and this in turn makes the child feel insecure or anxious. "Who's in charge?" is what the child is thinking, "…and it better not be me." But if it needs to be so, the child will take over. Parents have threatened their child with being grounded for a year; no video games until you graduate high school and making the child go live with "Uncle Jim in Utah." None of this will ever work. Ever.

To be an effective parent, you must be thinking ahead, think about what you can do in a situation rather than rely on antiquated techniques that your parents modeled over twenty years ago or from whatever "parenting" episode you have viewed on the evening comedy shows. Your children require you to be an accomplished leader. You can handle any situation with your child if you focus on WHAT you want your child to do and stop indulging in explanations or making deals. Tell your child want you want him to do and stick with it. If he finds that he can distract you by argumentative chatter, he will do so. Continue with your original directive, repeat, repeat, and repeat. Reiterate your command, calmly, easily, and softly. Your demeanor means everything. When you say, "Oh for goodness sake, why do you argue with me all the time?" then you are distracting you and the child from the original focus. You are inviting dissension because he will surely be prepared to offer you his side of the story as well as see his ability to thwart you.

Mother could easily say, "I'm sure that my child will leave the magazine in the car." She could then begin walking off to the hiking path with the grandparents. If the child shows up at the trailhead with the magazine, he is merely testing you. State calmly and serenely, "…People must put the magazine in the car," without looking at your child. Accept no verbal exchange, no eye contact, and no first names. If it requires that you stand and speak informally with the grandparents, then do so. Wait and be patient. "Pleeeeeezzze Mom," retorts your child, begging for the chance to disrupt your conversation. Again, you can calmly reply, "…children must leave the magazine in the car," and again, wait. Your certainty about your command and your displayed patience will commit to your child that you will continue with your assertion and that he stands no chance. He wants you to win, he needs you to succeed. Be patient and wait. Repeat the command should you wish. Your child will do as asked in a situation where you follow this protocol. When he completes the task as directed, you may smile at him and begin moving on.

Threatening your child works only if you wish to be frustrated. By being an assertive parent you rely on your authority. Authority works when you act with the Three C's: certainty, confidence, and conviction. Use the three C's, you will C that they work for you and for your child.

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