I’m queen of empty threats with my kids. “Eat your dinner or I’ll never feed you again.” “Get ready or I’ll leave you here by yourself.” “Stop or we’ll leave the store.” Experts say empty threats aren’t good for your child…blah, blah, blah. I have three kids. I’ve pretty much stopped listening to what the experts say. I’m pretty sure most of them do not have children of their own. However, I will let you in on a little secret: empty threats work IF you make good on them every once in a while.
When my oldest was not quite 2 and throwing a huge tantrum in Target, I told him that Target would kick us out if he didn’t behave. This only made him scream louder so my husband picked him up and walked to the doors. I walked up to a random employee and started a conversation. I then went to my son and said “Target said we had to leave because of your screaming. We have to leave all of our stuff here” pointing to the rather overload cart filled with groceries and goodies alike. I ended with shaking my head, saying “I guess we don’t get food to eat this week since you couldn’t behave.” We then walked out to the car and got in. Unbeknownst to my son, I had made a deal with the Target employee to watch over the cart while we taught him a lesson. As we walked to the car, my oldest stopped his tears and with big eyes asked “we don’t have any food mommy?” “Nope.”
Now, I went back in and paid for our overload cart of crap without my son knowing, but better than that? My oldest son is now over 6 and still remembers this. He has even informed his younger brother and sister that they can’t misbehave “or we’ll have to leave and won’t get to eat!”
I’ve also made good on the “get ready, stop misbehaving or I’ll leave without you.” This one involved some trickery, but it worked like a charm. When my oldest (poor kid, he’s always learning the lessons for all three of my kids) just would not cooperate one morning, I walked out of the house and pretended to get into the car. In reality I ran around the side of the house and re-enterted the house through the back door just in time to hear my husband tell our oldest “I guess if you won’t listen we’ll leave you here” and he shut the front door, locking it behind him. My oldest watched, crying, as my husband backed the minivan out of the driveway, thinking we were all in there leaving him. I presented myself when he became panicked he was home alone and we had a nice long talk about his behavior. To this day, whenever I tell my kids “I’ll leave you here” they tend to move just a bit faster and line up by the front door.
While these have worked for my kids, my sister-in-law was not so lucky with hers. My nephew would not get dressed one morning and taking his sweet time. She finally made good on the threat “get dressed or I’ll take you to school naked.” My nephew rode to school in his underwear quietly, not saying a word. She had stuffed his clothes in her purse, thinking he would beg for them when he got to school. As she pulled up to the school, she was completely prepared to hand him his clothes and have a discussion on why he needs to listen. Instead, my nephew unbuckled himself, opened the car door, and gave a jazzy “bye mom! Have a good day!” Complete backfire. She had to chase him down and make him put on his clothes.
For your sake, I hope empty threats work on your kids. And if you do have to make good on them, I pray they don’t backfire. Because then you’re just screwed.