Can You Follow Through When Using Threats As Punishment

Angry mother is scolding at her son.

We were at my niece’s birthday party a few weeks ago and my 3-year-old did something I told him not to do. He proceeded to do it a second time. I told him not to do it again. I was excited to be at my cousin’s house and visiting with my family. I was looking forward to the food and the fun we were going to have.

using threats as punishment - The Everyday Mom Life

We had only been at the party for about 10 minutes. He did it a third time and before I thought about what I was saying I blurted out, “If you do that again we are leaving!”

Boom, he immediately did it again. I was so mad. I did not want to leave. I regretted making my threat so much. He looked at me and said, “We aren’t really leaving are we?”

I saw the tears in his eyes as he waited for my response. I knew I needed to follow through on what I told him. He burst into tears when I told him we were leaving. I wanted to cry too.

How many times have you been at a park or an event and heard a parent say an over the top threat that you know they don’t mean? Have you ever said, “If you do that one more time…,” only to repeat the threat several more times?

I promised myself I would not do this when I was a parent. Promises like this are easy to make when you don’t actually have kids. Flash forward to present day.

I have a 3-year-old and a 6-week-old. I am human. I am tired. Very tired. I try so hard to only say things I mean but I have found the catch. I now realize why we sometimes say things we don’t mean.

The reason is, we ACTUALLY DO mean them. I want to leave if he throws the mulch at the playground. I want to throw away all of his toys when they are littering the floor. I actually mean it, I just can’t follow through with some of them.

I have said, “If you don’t hurry I am going to leave without you.”

I would NEVER leave my child home alone and go to the grocery store without him, even if he is taking 15 minutes to put on his shoes.

I have said, “If you don’t put your toys away, I am going to throw them away.”

I have no intention of throwing away an expensive toy that I know he loves just because it is taking multiple reminders to clean it up.

I realize though that every time I threaten my son with something I won’t follow through on, my son will learn a lesson I don’t want. He will learn that I can’t be trusted to actually do what I say. He will learn that he can sometimes “get away” with misbehaving, even when I am really mad. He will learn that at times my anger is guiding my language and behavior.

My husband and I came up with things that we know are reasonable punishments that we can follow through on every time. It’s not easy and it takes commitment but I hope it will be worth it. Another benefit of this is that when I am really, really mad I have had to pause and think for a moment about the threat that I want to make.

This pause sometimes gives me a moment to get a little perspective. Is his behavior dangerous to himself or someone else? Is it destructive? Is it disrespectful? These help me assess what the appropriate punishment should be.

The punishment I think most effective is if it is similar to what the natural consequence of his behavior would bring. For example, if he is throwing his toys or playing too rough with them, they could break. I warn him that they can break and then if he continues I take it and it goes on a shelf in the garage. He then sees it every time we get in and out of the car. It is a reminder of the toy he can’t play with and that if he is rough, his toys could break and then he won’t have them.

We have several consequences that work for us. Time out is good because he can stand in time out anywhere we are. He hates it when we are out and he is missing the fun, even just for a few minutes. Taking a toy away and putting it in the garage for a day or more is also effective. Taking away his screen time is one we use a lot. His screen time is limited but the 20 minutes he gets to play a game or watch a show is something he really likes. There are more but these are the ones that work best for us.

The reason we punish our children is to correct their behavior. My hope is that by teaching him to behave and do the right thing now, he will apply these lessons to the big decisions he will make later in life. Now if I can just do my part to watch my temper and only say what I mean.

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  1. I am definitely guilty of making threats I don’t mean, but if I tell them I am throwing away a toy if they don’t pick it up, it goes in the trash. They have to learn.

  2. You are totally right, we have to be careful about the threats we make to your littles! Impressive that your kiddos get to see the toys that are on what we call “vacation” – if ours could see theirs, they’d try to climb up and get it, so we have to hide them!

  3. I always try to follow through with what I say, but I have totally said ” if you don’t hurry I will leave without you”. I know I won’t, and she really does too. I have gone through her room with a garbage bag before, but never actually got rid of the toys.

  4. I’ve caught myself doing this a few times. I changed the “threat” to actually following through with a lesson learned to not do the behavior again. It’s helped a lot.

  5. I don’t even know what I’m saying half the time, I’m so exhausted chasing a toddler and dealing with a newborn while working. My husband and I were just saying the dad on Daniel Tiger is way too calm and they need to make a version for adults to learn from. You should write for it! Lol

  6. Guilty! With daughters ages 18 and 12, I’ve learned though to keep my mouth shut when it comes to threats unless I follow through. It took me years to learn this, and it’s hard, but it’s made all the difference in the world when it comes to behavior, because momma means what she’s saying.

  7. I’ve done this too, when I’ve done it and don’t follow through I explain to my child that I was angry and didn’t really mean it. But, I try very hard not to say something if I don’t mean it. My kids are old enough to understand everything and I can explain things to them, so that helps, but I still try to say what I mean and mean what I say, but it gets so hard as a mom when these kids act out or have meltdowns. And, I have to say, meltdowns continue into the teen years, they just change how the meltdown occurs. Motherhood is a challenge we all love and it tests our patience every single day, often multipe times a day. Great post, I enjoyed reading it.

  8. My little one just turned 2 so I have really started watching every word because she is such a sponge. Looks like you have some super reasonable consequences that work great…notes taken 🙂

  9. You’re right, it makes total sense. I hate having to threaten the kids to be honest. I make sure to keep my word to teach them a lesson and to make them see that I keep my word as well. When it comes to kids though, we definitely need to choose our words better.

  10. We have all done this and yet follow through is important! My dad would take me home from dinners and family parties if I wouldn’t listen and I will always do the same with my kids.

  11. I have made quite a few empty threats in my life so far as mommy. And let’s be honest, they will probably be more. But this was a great reminder of the importance of following through and being true to our word! Our kids will test those boundaries!

  12. I’ve done this a few times with my oldest. hes like whatever mom. I think thats just 14 year old boy speak but I often follow through when it comes to grounding and such, but taking things away for long or anything i just cant seem to do fully.

  13. I think it is important that kids learn that there are consequences to their actions. Having said that, making empty threats is definitely not good because it makes kids think that you don’t mean business.

  14. I think about things like this often. We’re lucky now that our son is so young, he doesn’t notice inconsistencies or when we don’t quite do what we say we are going to do – but our window of time where that’s true is running out! Some good reminders in here to think through what you’re really saying to your child and make sure to choose those words carefully!

  15. We are just entering the phase were we have to punish our son. I had the we’re going to leave experience this weekend. Let’s just say we were both in tears when we drove away. Why is it so hard?

  16. Loved reading this. Parenting is so much about unlearning stuff we have learnt over all the years of our adulthood, isn’t it? I realise I do this too, say stuff which I have no intention of doing. I dread to think if my child will turn into a person like that.

  17. I grew up with a parent who was constantly making threats that they didn’t mean, and it wears on you as a kid. I made a promise to myself when I became a parent to try as hard as possible to avoid the same mistake. Occasionally even then I would find myself starting to say something just to get my kids to behave, particularly away from home. It’s tough not to sometimes, but so important to follow through.

  18. Ugh I feel for you! Kids, especially little boys, test the limits so much! You were right to leave the party even though you didn’t want to. I like your suggestions of how to enforce healthy boundaries with your kids — I admire all parents for their patience in training young humans on how to be good people. 🙂

  19. Our two year old daughter just recently caught on to the idea that my threats usually don’t hold true. She has been testing me every single day just to see how I’ll react. Just like making and keeping a positive promise, we have to do what we say we are going to do in response to undesirable behaviors.

  20. You’ve got to be so careful with what you say to children. Whilst I’m not yet a parent, I am a teacher so need to always make sure I follow through with what I say. I agree too, taking a moment to think is important.

  21. I have been guilty of my empty threats in the past, but I try not to do it so much since kids quickly learn that you don’t actually mean it. Therefore, they ‘ll continue not picking up their toys. The joys of parenthood! 🙂


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