How Effective are Threats When Training Children?


By Ron Hindbaugh M.A.


Most parents at some time have used threats to control their children. When this occurs the parent is usually frustrated and trying to make a point. But the point they are trying to make seems, many times, to get lost in the threat. Let’s drop in on a parent threatening their child and judge for yourself how effective it is. "I'm not waiting any longer. Get in the bathtub right now or there'll be no bedtime stories for you

What is the message that the parent is trying to get across? I think the parent is trying to say that time is short and that if the child wants to get a bath they need to “hop-to-it” or going to bed clean won’t be an option. Yet I don’t think that this is the message the child is getting. The child is probably thinking something like this, “What’s wrong with her? I’ve done the best I can and still she is not satisfied. She is nothing but a big nag. Why do I have to put up with this?” Or worse yet, the child could be thinking, “I never can do anything right. What’s wrong with me? I’ve wasted my time and now my Mom feels I’m an awful person.”

I believe that threats are aimed at getting the job done rather than helping the child grow. I don’t think that a principled child or person is affected by threats to work harder or change their behavior. In fact some kids use threats as an excuse to challenge or threaten back. !” It can be frustrating trying to control your child but, in my opinion threats that work in the short run do nothing to help the child learn what they need to learn in the process.

What should a parent do when the child is not cooperating or when the child must has no choice and is resistive? Here are some options.

Give choices. Instead of making threats, try offering your child a choice. Example: "What would you like to do first-take a bath or brush your teeth?” Often children do not respond to requests because they feel that when they do what the parent requests they give up control they think they need. Having the opportunity to make a choice helps them to feel they have some control of the situation. Be flexible enough to give your child control that you do not need.

Use a gentle tone. When you take the time to talk to your child in an encouraging way, you enhance your relationship with your children and, as a result, they will be more apt to understand your request for cooperation Also, let your youngsters know that their cooperation will have an enjoyable outcome. Example: "C'mon, honey. It's time for your bath. If you hurry, we'll have time to read an extra story before you go to sleep."

Point out to the child what they are doing and the choices they are making then let the child know the consequences of their behavior. Do this in a non threatening manner. “It looks like you are choosing to spend your time in a manner that will use up the time allotted for your bath. If you continue to spend your time in this manner there will be no time left for stories before bed. I’ll be interested to see how you spend your time.”

If you decided to point out the consequences it is important to follow through. There is nothing more confusing to a child then to know what the consequences should be and to manipulate the circumstances to avoid the consequences. Why comply with a parent’s request if it doesn’t matter?

Threats, lectures, and not holding the child accountable teach the child very little. Most children learn because they figure out for themselves that the choices they make do make a difference in their live. Most children learn to become cooperative and compliant by knowing that what they do effects what happens to them. Most children learn because they have maintained a relationship with a parent or significant other that creates and atmosphere of trust and respect so that compliance is natural. Most children learn by gaining insight for themselves from the consequences they experience (pleasant or unpleasant) that are consistent and related to their behavior.