We scarcely recognize the number of threats we use to coerce our children into doing what we want them to do. If they talk back, we threaten them with Time Out. If they don’t eat all their dinner, we threaten to withhold dessert. When things get really serious, we threaten to leave them with the babysitter who wears too much I’m-an-icky-old-lady perfume. Tough love, right?
In our house, we would use fewer threats if our preschooler were more reasonable. Sometimes he is reasonable, and we come to a mutually agreeable resolution to a conflict. Other times, he wants to play like North Korea, and we have to start rolling out the ultimatums.
It made us realize the number of threats we employ with our child when he started loading threats into his own ammunition box of manipulative strategies. Then we got to hear what we sound like to him.
I hope our threats don’t sound quite as twisted as his do, but I guess we can never really know that. Maybe our threats fall into the same eyebrow-raising categories as his do:
The Logical, yet ineffectual threat:
“If you don’t take me to the toy store, you can’t get a toy.”
The Completely unrelated cause and effect threat:
“If you don’t give me some potato chips, Santa’s not gonna bring you anything for Christmas.”
The If I can’t touch you, I’ll get to you through your loved ones threat:
“If you don’t put on cartoons, I’m gonna throw this Thomas train at the cat.”
His biggest problem with issuing threats is that all of his are idle ones (except for me not getting a toy). He doesn’t want to hurt the cat; he loves the cat, and Santa always brings me something nice. A lot of grown-ups don’t understand the elements of a threat, so it’s no insult to him to say that he’s still working it out. Coercion is a difficult subject to master.
He hasn’t learned all his threats from his parents, though. One of his favorite threats comes from a cartoon. It’s the you’re fired threat. It goes like this: “Daddy, if you put any carrots on my plate, you’re fired!” This threat is a running joke between us. He uses it to tell me how he feels about different things, like carrots. I fire him sometimes too.
One day, his mother was calling from the next room for him to go clean up a mess he had left there. He went, but before he did, he rolled his eyes and casually told me, “She’s fired.”
I like the you’re fired threat. It gives him a light-hearted way to express his feelings about various situations. It lets him sound me out to see how far he can press an issue with me. Besides, I know he could never follow through on it. You have to be the boss to fire somebody, and he’s not the boss of Daddy. I happen to know that Mommy is the boss.