At least once in your lifetime, you'll have probably heard one of your parents tell you: "If you don't get over here this very minute, I'm leaving without you!" or "If you don't stop kicking the back of the seat, I'll throw you out of the car!" Perhaps as a parent, you've even continued this proud tradition and given a dose of these empty threats to your own children.
However, "If-then" threats aren't really good parenting, said online child guidance counselor Ulric Ritzer-Sachs, as parents who make them are "only kidding themselves."
Pedagogues and psychologists concur that punishment is never the answer and that threats are generally empty and cruel. The things you say in the heat of the moment, out of frustration or anger, will only teach your children to fear you, rather than how to solve the problem and understand how their behavior is related to real-life consequences in a logical way.
You can't punish a child for every instance of misbehavior, Ritzer-Sachs said. And if you do threaten punishment, you've got to deal it out quickly, it must clearly relate to the offense and explain consequences.
"Threatening to throw the child out of the car doesn't help – it only frightens the child."
At some point, you'll either run out of ever-more-drastic threats, or they'll stop having any effect, he said. After all, how would you react if your child responded to a threat by saying, "So go ahead and do it already?"
And if, in a fit of anger, you declare that you're grounding your child for three days, you should be big enough to take it back after a heart-to-heart talk once tempers have cooled, Ritzer-Sachs said.
On the other hand, painting "if-then" scenarios are fine, in his view, if they're meant to teach a child rules, limits or norms – like when you set clear rules for mobile phone use, for example.
"If the child then breaks them, proscriptions could by all means follow," he says.
They can also be used to point to undesirable consequences of misbehavior, e.g., "If you don't do your homework, you'll get into trouble at school."
The key here is to present your child with a logical punishment that is connected to the action. If your kid has not eaten their healthy meal, then the consequence could be that they won't be served dessert. But saying they are not allowed dessert because they did not clean up their room is not an appropriate punishment.
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