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PARENTING TODAY: Say what you mean, mean what you say

Nine-year old Olivia was talking to her friends in the schoolyard. The group had come up with a plan to have a sleepover on the weekend and watch horror movies.
kathy lynn

Nine-year old Olivia was talking to her friends in the schoolyard.

The group had come up with a plan to have a sleepover on the weekend and watch horror movies. Olivia was delivering the news that her parents were adamant this was not going to happen.

Her friends reminded her that there were still four days until the planned event and surely she could wear her parents down in that time.

"No," Olivia explained, "When my parents say no, they mean it."

Those other kids who nag their parents do it because it works.

Parents often use threats to avoid following through on their expectations of their children's behaviour. Threats are the downfall of many parents. Your child is misbehaving and a threat comes flying out of your mouth. Unfortunately, you don't really mean it and your youngster knows that.

There is a story about a child who was playing with his buddy in the backyard of the house next door. His mother came out and called him home for dinner and he ignored her. About five minutes later she called again, and again he just kept on playing. Another five minutes passed and when she called him he said goodbye to his friend because it was time to go home. As he was leaving, the mom asked him why he paid attention this time. "Oh," he explained, "she never means it until the third time."

Empty threats are a total waste of time. Our kids know us well and they know when we don't mean what we say. So, either mean what you say or be quiet.

Often we end up using empty threats with our children when we are in public and are embarrassed by their behaviour. It's a family dinner with aunts, uncles, grandparents and cousins. Ben is not really eating. He is playing with his food, trying to kick other kids under the table, being gross by putting food in his mouth and spitting it out. And you are threatening him. "If you don't settle down, you'll have to leave the table."

There is a problem with your threats. He may not have any idea what you need from him. Often we let kids get away with appalling table manners at home and then expect them to know how to behave out in public. They are confused. Yesterday at home they squirmed in their seat, played with their food and behaved grossly and you said nothing.

In order for us to stop using threats it's important to know what your standards are and what behaviour you reasonably expect from your child. Sit down and think of the times when you find yourself threatening your child. Is it around table manners, behaviour in the mall, or his actions with other kids at the playground?

Once you're clear on the rules and expectations, talk to your child so that he knows what you expect. Also let him know what the consequences will be. Lousy table manners mean that you're finished with the meal and you can get down from the table, racing around the mall or being mean to other kids at the playground means that you will immediately go home.

Once you have determined the rules and your expected standards for behaviour, you will find it easy to follow through.

When you are out in public with your child and she's acting up, it's easy to find yourself threatening her because you're embarrassed. Your job is not to impress others with your well-behaved child but to help your child learn how to behave in public. Think before you speak and then mean what you say.

Threats of abandonment can touch on a child's worst fear. When I hear a parent say to a child, "I'm leaving now," and then turning away from the child I feel so badly for the child. It will likely work, but for all the wrong reasons. He will be so frightened of being abandoned by his parent, he will panic and follow along. You can leave the situation, but with the child. Don't threaten to abandon him.

Once you take threats out of your parenting style and speak when you mean what you say, your children will pay attention.

Kathy Lynn is a professional speaker and author of Vive la Différence, Who's In Charge Anyway? and But Nobody Told Me I'd Ever Have to Leave Home. If you want to read more, sign up for her informational newsletter at