There’s a phrase that can be heard almost anywhere at anytime where parents and children are present, if you’ll listen for it. And it’s one of the most dangerous phrases used in parenting.
In general, the scenario goes like this: Johnny does something that he either knows is against the rules or something that his parents don’t approve of, and mom’s or dad’s first trigger response is to (almost like a gag reflex) throw out the “ threat phrase”…
Can you guess what it is?
It’s one of the most dangerous, yet commonly used, phrases in parenting, and it’s this: “If you do that again…”
Have you noticed? Nearly every parent is doing it. Threatening their child with some consequence “if they do it again.” (As if they’re challenging their child to test them to see what happens, and that’s usually exactly what the child does.)
I’m amazed at how often I hear parents use this phrase, and surprised at how I’ve even caught myself or my wife using it on occasion as well.
Sadly, it’s almost as if many parents have been subconsciously trained to respond in this singular way to their child’s misbehavior—to whip out the “threat phrase.”
There are two main problems with using this threat phrase:
1) Parents usually use the threat phrase as an alternative to actually enforcing any consequence at all.
Sadly, this approach to parenting does no favors for anyone, whether parent or child, but instead simply salves the conscience of parents to think that they’re being ‘big and bad’ when in reality, they’re doing nothing.
Also, it’s causing kids to realize that they can intentionally do wrong, knowing that they’ll not be disciplined without first being given a warning with the threat phrase. This is potentially very dangerous in any family, laying the early groundwork of parental inconsistency in our child’s heart and mind.
Another huge problem with the threat phrase is this:
2) Kids have been programmed to know by previous instances that the threat phrase is nothing more than clouds without rain.
One of the major problems with using the threat phrase as a parenting philosophy is this: In most cases (as far as I’ve seen), very rarely does a parent follow through with the stated consequence.
“If a parent is not willing to expect immediate obedience, they’re probably also not going to enforce immediate consequences.”
How many times have we heard parents use the threat phrase by saying something like this, “If you do _______ again, you’re going to get a _______,” or “If you don’t stop ________, you’re not going to get to _________.” But less than five minutes later, the child does the exact same thing, and the parent says the exact same threat, just a little bit louder, but with no enforced consequence.