I don’t bluff

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).

Originally posted on Selfish Mom. All opinions expressed on this website come straight from Amy unless otherwise noted. This post has a Compensation Level of 0. Please visit Amy’s Full Disclosure page for more information.


  1. says

    Amy, you put the hard work in now so you’re not bailing them out later in life. I’m a firm believer that if our kids can’t trust us under all circumstances then we’re dropping the ball on parenting. Yes, it kinda sucks when we have to stay behind b/c our kid didn’t deserve to go. And it’s a bummer when you can’t stop to get a treat because you don’t want to rub it in their face that you get but they don’t.

    But consistency is key. And setting realistic consequences is important. I’ve heard those parents at Disney threaten their kids with punishments that will never happen and if they did the parents would be picked up by CPS as they exit Small World. The kid learns nothing other than mom & dad don’t mean what they say.

    Good for you for not bluffing. If this happens again in 2 years it’s nothing involving social media and a camera phone.

  2. says

    I agree, you are 100% correct. My son knows when I start to count to 3 I will initiate whatever consequence I have mentioned. This is how I was taught and it works. He listens, eventually. They are stubborn, but they know when they can;t win.

  3. says

    Amy, as an Early Childhood Education Teacher, it is refreshing when I see parents who are consistent! It can be hard, but the rewards are worth it. Keep up the good work!

  4. Emily(CityBaby Living) says

    AMEN! Thank you for this post! As my sister always says- “People! We’re raising human beings here!” There are consequences to our choices and kids need to learn this too. We stayed in the house until 3pm the other day because I told my daughter we weren’t leaving or doing anything fun until she took a bath.

  5. Sarah says

    Amy, you are absolutely right. Empty threats are pointless, especially the extravagant ones that can never be realized (“if you hit your sister again, I’m leaving you here”?? Really? You’re going to leave your child in a park?). If the kid misbehaves there’s a specific warning and then there are immediate consequences. In our house, we count to three if the kids aren’t doing what we told them to do, and by this point they’re so clear that we’re not kidding that they say in mock fear “don’t get to three! don’t get to three!”

    • says

      @Sarah: That’s hilarious. I’ll have to try it on them, see if it works with other adults. Or if they just roll their eyes at me and tell me I’m not their mom. :-)

  6. Ann says

    Well here I and my 7 yr old sit in the Disney world parking lot because my oldest could not behave in animal kingdom. We didn’t get even 30 mins in the park when he started having fits of epic proportions. We slept in, had a good lunch, and decided a little while ago to go into the park. He refused to walk, demanded to sit in the stroller ( we have a baby and a 4 yr old), I was called the “worst parent in the world” when we got fast passes for kali, he repeatly said “walking was stupid”, he started yelling and collapsing on the ground, so he was warned him and I would leave, if he didn’t stop. Well, he continued and so I trekked back here in the blistering heat to our van with him. We r not going back in bc I don’t bluff either. I am so sad that this occurs but I don’t know what else to do about this type of misbehavior. My husband and I pulled him aside numerous time to speak calmly abt his actions and words,gave a time out and warned him. Everyone loses out in these types of situations and I wish so much it would have gone differently.

  7. says

    @Ann, Sometimes our kids make life hard. It’s comes with the territory. Stay strong, in this case winning is everything if the behaviour is to cease. Good luck and I hope you grabbed sustenance on the way out.

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