The past month or so has been one big empty threat for my kiddos - mainly for my 4-year-old, Miles.
We say: Put your shoes on now, or you're not going to spend the night at Grandma's house.
What we really mean: Ummmmm... you can pretty much pee all over the house, refuse to share with your sister, throw your dishes on the floor - it doesn't matter. You're spending the night at grandma's no matter what!
What we say: If you keep running at the pool, then we're going to go home.
What we really mean: We're not going to leave our friends at the pool and make your brother and sister go home early because you're not listening. We're going to just keep on reminding you. You might have to sit down for a few minutes, but we're not going home.
What we say: You do that again, and you're going to bed for the night.
What we really mean: We're not going to put you to bed before 6 pm. Listening to you scream and cry all night will ruin everyone's night.
What we say: Eat your vegetables. There's no snack before bedtime - this is it.
What we really mean: We value our sleep way more than whether or not you eat that one piece of cold broccoli. If you say you're hungry before bedtime, we're going to give you something to eat.
After weeks of letting things slide and ignoring bad behavior or reinforcing it with empty threats, I finally came to my senses.
Even if I'm the one that feels punished, I need to start following through on things - or (even more importantly) not threaten things that I never intend to follow through on.
One day last week, we were putting on our shoes to walk to a nearby park to play on the playground and enjoy a picnic lunch. The kids were excited, and they helped me pack our lunch into a cooler. We were all ready to go, and I took a few minutes to change the baby's diaper before we walked out the door. While I was preoccupied doing this, Miles couldn't control himself. He ran into the basement and dumped every single tub of toys in the room. (This is behavior that we have been working on for months - and something he knows he is not allowed to do.)
I was angry. I put him in time out, and the whole time he kept saying, "We're still going to the park, right? We won't miss our picnic lunch, will we?"
And I knew that his behavior would never change if all he got was a 3-minute time out followed by an afternoon of fun at the park.
The last thing I wanted was to stay home. The weather was perfect, the baby didn't need to eat or sleep for at least two hours. My middle child (Alice) was excited to get out and run.
But I knew that I couldn't let one more empty threat rule our house.
So, much to Miles's surprise, we didn't go to the park for lunch. He sat in time out a little longer than usual, and then we went to the basement and cleaned up every single toy he had dumped.
Alice and I had some special time creating art projects, and Miles was allowed to join us after he had cleaned the basement.
It wasn't the afternoon we had planned. But I finally got through to Miles that his behavior will not be tolerated - even if it means punishing the entire family.
And now my husband and I have been making a strong effort not to threaten something that we have no intention of following through with. If we're not willing to leave the restaurant, then we don't threaten to. If we're going to cave and let him have a graham cracker before bed, then we don't threaten not to.
When we're more consistent, our kids are too.