Why threatening your child is a parenting no-no

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“ If you don’t pick up all your toys now, I will lock you in the bathroom.” If statements such as these have become an integral part of your parenting repertoire, it is time to stop in your tracks and rethink.

As adorable babies turn into headstrong kids there is a perceptible shift in the way they think and operate. They start seeking greater freedom to express themselves as separate individuals including the right to do or not do certain things. Often children also say “No” as a means of asserting their independence. It is when we hear this ubiquitous word- “No” that our instinct to threaten a child with negative consequences kicks in, which can often prove to be counterproductive. Very often we tend to get so frustrated that we end up threatening them with consequences that we are simply not able to follow up on or are so harsh that they end up causing more bad than good.

It is important to understand that even if threats can bring about short-term compliance, it is unlikely to work in the long term as the child is performing the task out of fear of punishment and not because he or she attaches any value to the behavior. In fact the kid’s choices get rooted in fear, so much so that they are unable to shake off these fears even in adulthood. Sample this: a child who is routinely threatened with dire consequences if he does not do well in exams may land up associating education with fear and may not be able to go very far academically. It is best therefore, to drop this toxic emotion of fear and replace futile threats with other positive parenting tools. Here are some useful ideas:

  • Offer choices instead of threats: Threats send out a negative controlling message to the child that you don’t trust them enough. Stating the problem and giving your child a choice can help diffuse the situation better. For instance if your child refuses to come to the table for meal, let him know that he can choose to have his meal now or he can choose to skip his meal which means that he will have to go to bed on an empty stomach at night. This is as opposed to threatening him with getting no food if he does not come to the table that very minute.
  • Don’t assume that your child instinctively knows the appropriate way to behave in each situation: Even if they do know they need constant reminding and encouragement to make the right behavior choices. Communicate your expectations clearly before introducing him to a new social setting. For instance if your preschooler is going for a play date let him or her know that while sharing is ok and snatching is not.
  • Stay calm despite the provocation: Sometimes threats can aggravate your child’s behavior. This in turn could lead to increased friction and the tendency to rebel. It is imperative, therefore that you keep your cool and don’t let the conversation take a negative turn. Instead learn to calm your child down before attempting to resolve the issue.
  • If you do happen to make an empty threat, admit it: In the heat of the moment you tend to make threats that you know you cannot follow up on, like throwing out all their toys, or making them clean up the entire house after a mess. Admit that you made a mistake and said what you did because you were upset with their behavior. This will help the child recognize anger as a regular emotion rather than denying its existence or fearing it. That accepting your frailties will help you bond better with your child, is an added perk. Ensure this does not land up becoming the norm though, as it will then lead to the child disregarding your threats completely.

Remember good parenting is as much about encouraging positive behavior and actions as it is about disciplining negative actions. Turning threats into choices they make for themselves can help you teach them strong life lessons that they grow up to be thankful for.