Threatening as a new method of parenting ???


“Stop screaming in the car, or I will pull this car over.”

“If you don’t stop crying, we will leave right now.”

“If you don’t stop doing that, you won’t get dessert.”

So, I feel like I have noticed an influx of parents using threats in attempt to get their child to do (or not do) something. Daily, I seem to hear parents threaten their children with a consequence if their child doesn’t behave a certain way. Now, let’s get a couple things straight. 1. Cause & effect/consequences are a great way to teach children about life and the natural consequences that happen by our choices. 2. I have made plenty not so great threats of my own. 3. Is there a different option?

First – Our children do have to learn that there are certain consequences to their choices. I think one of the issues in our society is that we either fall on the side that has no consequences, thus children run the house, or land on the other side where we expect a 2 year old to function as a 15 year old. It’s hard to land somewhere in between. I heard a mom say once, “In our house, we have as few rules as possible. My children will be shamed and punished enough by the outside world (siblings, friends, teachers, relatives), that we don’t need to add to it.” Now this women and her husband have thought A LOT (have PhD’s in this area) about parenting and the mom was simply saying that her job is to love her children unconditionally and make sure that comes first. I also have heard pediatricians say, “your child won’t use their pacifier (or not be potty trained, or throw tantrums) in kindergarten. And if they do, it won’t last long, because peer pressure is a killer.” What the pediatrician was getting at was why focus your energies on “making” your child do something now when inevitable it will happen on their own time.

“Stop screaming in the car, or I will pull this car over.” – What does this teach your child, other than you have physical control over them (not really the best thing to be teaching our children). Why not think outside of the box. If you scream as an adult in an enclosed area, first people might calmly ask if you are ok and if they can help. If you proceed, then they will probably just leave. Are you in a place where you can first ask if they are ok and then just let your child be? Maybe you step out of the car, or leave the house, or leave the aisle at the grocery store. You are taking an active passive stance and saying I can’t be with you and help you when you behave like this versus an aggressive “I’ll make you behave” stance.

Second – For me, the biggest question is: Is this for me or is this for them? So many parenting trends in the Western world come out of a “this is my life and I’ll make you fit into it” mentality. Are you reactive because you are embarrassed about their behavior (pacifier, tantrum, yelling in public, etc.) or is it really harming them? I realize this is often a gray line.

“If you don’t stop crying, we will leave right now.” – Half the time they probably don’t want to be there anyway (grocery story, running errands). It’s no sweat off their back if you leave, in fact that might be want they want. Or if they are in an environment where they usually enjoy (park, dance lessons, soccer practice) maybe something happened that they were unable to internally process and put words to, so they act out, actually needing to leave the situation to regulate themselves. What would it be like to offer an escape and a place to process versus threatening a departure. In the long run a threat does nothing to help them truly understand what is going on for them.

Third – Is there another option? I think so. I hope so. I know that I often threat when I am parenting reactively and my buttons have been pushed. I am usually angry and harsh. Those are not the ways that I desire to parent. I want to be consistent, helpful, loving, and full of grace. Taking a deep breath (or 10 of them), thinking about my intent and hope, and ALWAYS asking what else is going on for my child usually ends with no threat at all or a much gentle choice/consequence.

“If you don’t stop it right now, you won’t get dessert.” – First, why is a behavior tied to food in our society? Don’t we have enough eating/food/body image issues/dieting/etc. in our world without making food a part of discipline. {As a professional who has worked a lot with eating disorders, let’s please stop associating “good behavior” with a “treat or dessert” and “bad behavior” with “hunger or no dessert.” It’s just not a natural or helpful consequence.} Second, ask yourself, “if I was behaving like they are what might be going on, and what might I need.” Then make your decision about responding accordingly.

Believe me, I realize that there are moments when a child’s defiance is unbearable. Or when there are other issues surrounding the behavior. I just want to invite us to take a stance of realizing that there is always more to the story, and if we can help our children understand the story AND their reactions, we have given them a gift that will be much more helpful in relationship and life then just to respond to a threat.


…even to our own children
…even to our own children

Deep breaths to you, as we maneuver our way through the journey of parenting.


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Elisa is a native Arizonan by birth and a Seattleite by heart. She is a wise, spirited woman who loves feeling the sun on her face, but also enjoys cold rainy days, complete with a cup of coffee and a good book or conversation. After graduating with a Masters in Counseling Psychology and seeing clients for a time, she took a hiatus to love on, play with, and offer copious amounts of hugs to our little girls, Malia and Jayden. She is now back working at Socorro Counseling and Consulting in Downtown Phoenix. Unafraid to laugh at herself and able to see the beauty in others, she makes everyone feel at ease, making her a genuine friend, therapist, and wife. Give her a cute pattern and a sewing machine or some spray paint and a piece of furniture and they are surely to be transformed into some warm piece of art that brightens our living space. She also finds creativity in cooking, making household cleaners, and anything Pinterest. In short, Elisa is stylish, wise, thoughtful, creative woman who makes everyone around her a better person, including her husband (who wrote this bio).


  1. This was wonderful! Thank you for sharing your thoughts on this… Parenting is hard for sure! Nice to now we aren’t alone!?


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