So an interesting scene is playing out right this minute in my mom’s living room. I’m on her couch working, and my son is sitting on a chair near me. He’s been there for 30 minutes, and he’ll be there for another 75. Sitting still. Nothing to look at, nothing to do. Why? Because I don’t bluff. At least not with my kids. (Catch me in a poker room at The Borgata and that’s a different story.)
There’s nothing I can’t stand more than seeing a parent threaten something they have no intention of following through on. A couple months ago I was on a bus in Disney World, and a mom was sitting near me with her kids. One of them was acting terribly. I don’t blame the kid – a long day at Disney World can turn even the best behaved kid into a monster. But by the time she yelled “If you don’t sit down I’m going to take you back to the hotel room and you won’t leave until Sunday!” for the fifth or sixth time, I was ready to put her in a time out.
Of course she wasn’t going to do that. Of course she wasn’t going to make her child stay in their room for three days and miss out on Disney World. Nobody would. If a child did something bad enough to warrant being left in a hotel room at Disney World for three days, I’m guessing the police should have been called to investigate whatever they did. This kid was just acting like a garden-variety brat.
Other threats I’ve heard that have made me roll my eyes:
- If you do that one more time I’m calling your father (noteworthy not only for the buck-passing but also because it was said about a dozen times in half an hour).
- If you don’t turn the TV off right now I’m giving it to charity (I know this dad and he’d sooner give the kid to charity than miss watching ESPN).
- If you hit your sister again I’m leaving you here to live (said in a park, without a trace of sarcasm).
The number one rule of not setting yourself up for eighteen years of misery as a parent is to follow through. So if you threaten a child with something, you damn well better be prepared to follow through on it. If it’s not something you would actually carry out, it should never be spoken, or you’re putting yourself in a very bad position.
There are times when I’m simply not in a mood to enforce a punishment. Being a disciplinarian takes energy, and there are days when I look the other way on bad behavior because I just can’t deal. I really truly believe that that’s better than losing credibility with my kids.
I won’t go into the specifics of what my son did, let’s just say he had a mouthful of smartass and was acting like a jerk. I explained to him that I had to write a post and had nothing else to do for the next hour and forty-five minutes except sit on the couch, work, and make sure he didn’t move from the chair next to me, and that if he kept it up that’s what was going to happen. While his sister went to the park with grandma, no less.
Even though I’ve never bluffed about a punishment in his life, for some reason he didn’t believe me. So here he sits. There were no second chances, no counting down, none of the other bullshit I see parents throw at their kids to avoid punishing them. Just “Sorry, Jake can’t go to the park with you. He doesn’t deserve it.”
It’s his only full day on this trip with his grandmother. And it’s gorgeous outside. I’d rather he not be sitting here. But sometimes you have to do the hard thing to make the future easier. He’ll remember this for a long time. The most important thing he’ll remember is that I don’t bluff.
UPDATE: When this post went live I noticed because of the URL that I must have posted something with the same title at some point. And here it is. Two-and-a-half years later, at least I can say that I’m consistent (if repetitive).
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