Friday, October 17, 2014

Empty Threats

Every book and article about modern parenting provides the same advice on discipline. Mostly, they tell you to impose "natural consequences" (e.g. writing on walls = no markers for the rest of the day). But like all free advice, it's worth exactly what you pay for it. I prefer to use a different tactic: that of the "empty threat." 

This classic chestnut from the good ole days of spanking, force-feeding, and children-should-be-seen-and-not-heard works something like this: your kids are behaving like rambunctious chimpanzees on Redbull when it's time to leave for school. To secure compliance with departure, you desperately blurt out the first hyperbolic threat that pops into your head: No Christmas presents! No TV for a week! No desert for a month! No sleepover at so-and-so's house! No visit from grandma and grandpa! No birthday party! 

These are threats you have zero intention of fulfilling, because of course doing so would make your entire life much harder and not remotely easier. In other words, you're doing exactly what Iceman cautioned against in "Top Gun" by letting your mouth write checks your butt can't cash. Ideally, this tactic puts the fear of God in your kids and sends them careening out the door. But usually, your words are simply ignored due to a learned history of "unnatural consequences," in which your kids have come to understand that these threats are complete and utter toothless bullshit. 

And now you've all been given a preview of the parenting book I've been writing in secret for the past five years. I'm still working on the title, but the top two contenders are "How to Raise Pigs and Influence No One" and "Who Moved My Booze."


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