I’ve Got to Stop Threatening My Kids

First-grade girls are really cute, but they can be surprisingly mean. That was the consensus among my fellow first-grade moms during a recent bitch session.

One mom shared that whenever her daughter tries to play with other girls, her BFF threatens to end their friendship. This didn’t shock me because I’ve seen my own kid pull some similar B.S. “If you won’t play this game with me,” she once warned a pal, “I’ll tell my mom not to make play dates with you anymore.” Yikes.

“Where on earth did these girls get the idea that you have to threaten each other to get what you want?” I wondered aloud.

No sooner were the words out of my mouth than I realized the answer to my question. It’s us. Our kids are learning the art of the threat from their very own parents. Because let’s face it, at least half my discipline is based on threats. (The other half, obviously, is bribes.)

I can’t even count the number of times I have issued threats to try to get my kids to comply:

“Eat your dinner or there’s no dessert tonight!”

“If you don’t pick up these toys, I’m going to throw them all away!”

“Leave the park with me right this instant, or you can forget about watching TV later!”

Half the time my threats don’t even make sense. I mean, where’s the logic in quarantining one of my daughter’s favorite stuffed animals because she sassed me at Target?

I’m also famous for my empty threats—the ones I have no intention of carrying out. For instance, “If you keep teasing your sister then we are not going to the birthday party!” Meanwhile, I’m standing there with makeup on, holding a wrapped gift. Of course we are going to the birthday party.

It’s not like I wake up wanting to threaten my kids. What I want is for them is to put their shoes on the first, second, or even third time I ask. I’d settle for third, I swear. Instead, I get frustrated, and my quest to set loving limits with logical consequences quickly veers into threat territory. If grownups like myself resort to threats, is it any wonder our kids do?

For the sake of my kids and their friendships, I’m working on modeling some other ways to solve problems. Over the weekend, my first-grader was annoying the crap out me, repeatedly asking to watch TV even though her sister was still finishing lunch. (I’m liberal with the screen time, just not during meals.)

“Mom, can I turn on the TV now?” She’d whined. “Not yet, your sister is still working on her avocado,” I replied. Lather, rinse, repeat until I felt myself losing my cool.

I started to sputter, “Ask me that one more time and there will be no TV for the rest of day…” but I stopped. I took a deep breath, and I said, “I know you are excited to watch your show. Your sister will be finished with her lunch soon. Can you find something to do until she’s done?” And I swear to God, it worked. The kid busied herself working on her cartwheel and peace reigned for five more minutes. Best of all, I hadn’t deprived the whole family of TV.

I’m not sure I’ll always have the patience to avoid the threat, but every time I do, I know I’m showing my kids a calmer, kinder way to get through the day.

Photo: Getty

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