Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Empty Threats--the gig is up

"Hurry up, if you don't come now I'm going to leave."
"Why don't we play with your toys? If you don't play with the toys you have maybe we should tell Santa you don't need new toys."
" If you get up out of your room during quiet time I'll make you go to sleep."

Empty threats. Ick.  I use them all the time. I hate them but I always seem to resort to using them.  Why? Because sometimes they work. Sometimes claiming that I'll leave (when I totally WILL NOT) makes my little four year old put on the hustle.

We have a daily dance that we do at our house. It's called the quiet time shuffle and it reallllllly gets on my momma nerves. Mommy nerves--you know the ones that make you go from caring and polite to OH! MY GOODNESS! CHILD! BLAUAHHHHHHHH!!!! Headspinning!  in three seconds.  Well anyway,    I was doing the  quiet time shuffle with my four year old. She thinks she's big stuff now that I don't require actual sleeping but she likes to press the limits by coming out of her room 32 times making requests, suggestions, and observations. To nix this behavior I told her that if she came out of her room I'd make her go to sleep. This worked. and it felt good. I won. Do you know how thrilling it is to "win" against a toddler. Like you conquered Mt. Olympus good.

Then yesterday it backfired. My safety rope was severed  and I was free falling off that mountain. (Freeeeeeee. Freeeee fallllllllinnnggggggggggg.) With one innocent question I knew that my empty threats were getting the best of me. "But Mommy? How can you make me go to sleep? Will you hold me down and shut my eyes? "

Well played four year old. Well played.

She's right. I can't MAKE her fall asleep no better than I can MAKE her eyes turn brown. So while my idea of making her sleep worked for a few days, it now had back fired. 

Hanging my head in defeat I told her that no, I couldn't actually make her sleep but I could take away all her toys, turn the lights out, and leave the room dark. I could demand she stay in her bed which would no doubt result in tears, which would tire her eventually and then result in sleep.  She just shook her head and said "okay Mom that's a lot of work."

What I'm doing, these empty threats, or quick rewards are not really helping anything. They are creating short term fixes. They aren't altering her actual behavior. She's learning nothing other that Mom won't really do what she says she'll do and that if she doesn't obey immediately I might leave her in Target. What? Looking back on what I just typed makes me feel sick. That's hardly what I want.

Ah, the yucky side of parenting. The side that most of us keep hidden behind pinterest craft projects and healthy home cooked meals. You rarely talk about the "dark side" when chatting away at playgroup. We all have one though.  The reason I'm sharing this is because it's something that I'm constantly working on. My kids aren't perfect. I'm not perfect. And sometimes, there can be camaraderie in imperfection.

Throwing out hail Mary's of punishments and rewards to get a quick fix on a reoccurring behavior  isn't the way I WANT to parent.  I want to create new behaviors in my children. I want them to know the difference between what is right and wrong and not just that mommy will do something mean if I don't do what she says. I want Lilly to make good choices and be rewarded for them. I want to instill values of respect, love, and grace.

Hang on Mothers. Hold tight. We're doing this together. We are weak---but we are also strong.

Hugs and High Fives.

love, laura beth


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  2. Dr. Jim Dobson of Focus on the Family fame is author of The Strong Willed Child has some answers. At least they worked on you and John.