Toxic Parenting: Threatening Your Kids To Comply

by | Toxic Parenting Series

Threatening your kids to get them to listen to you is a common parenting technique. You may be surprised to know that your kids actually do learn from you when you threaten, nag, lecture, and scold them in an effort to get them to do what you want.

These methods teach kids how to resist, rebel, and engage in power-struggles and revenge cycles. They may learn to comply and become approval junkies – more concerned about pleasing others to feel a sense of belonging and significant, than wanting to cooperate out of mutual respect.

In many cultures, it’s ‘funny’ to threaten and scare children with a boogie man to get them to go to sleep, eat their food, or be quiet. But what happens when they learn that there is no ‘boogie man’?

They learn not to trust you.

Because if you’ve lied about the boogie man, what else have you lied to them about?

To create and maintain a positive relationship with your children, focus on protecting your child’s dignity and treating them with respect.

When you stop threatening, screaming, and lecturing your children, and start seeing them as humans deserving of your respect and attention, you can be sure that your children will be more inclined to listen to you and will want to obey you out of love, not fear.

Parents threaten their kids as a patch to fix bad behavior, but it’s NOT a long-term solution.

Threatening kids doesn’t always have to be scary

What’s really scary is that we’ll often use threats and not even realize we’re doing it.

When you’re trying to get your kids to do something, have you ever said…

♦️ “If you don’t get ready for bed quickly, I won’t read you a story.”

♦️ “It’s time to go home. We’ll come back to the park soon. If you don’t listen, I’ll leave you at home next time.”

♦️ “Sit still so I can fasten your seat belt, or you won’t get dessert tonight after dinner.”

♦️ “Be quiet or I’ll take away your screen time!”

Does any of this feel familiar and ring true for you?

These small threats that seem harmless and inconsequential, do actually work. In the short term, we can get our kids to cooperate by holding a threat over them.

But it’s not a long-term solution.

What happens when your kids become teens and young adults, and they’re making decisions that you don’t agree with. Do you think that you can continue to threaten them then?

Not without it backfiring.

Parents use threats as a way to manipulate their kids into cooperation simply because they haven’t yet learnt a better and more effective way of getting the results they want.

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Why does threatening our kids to behave backfire?

It is possible to get your child to cooperate if you threaten to withhold something from them, or give them something that they want.

But the best gift you can give your children, is to teach them intrinsic motivation. To instill in them the desire to make good decisions that has nothing to do with you holding something over them.

To help motivate you to want to leave threats behind and instead cultivate skills such as responsibility, self-discipline, and self-motivation, let’s consider some of the main reasons why threats backfire.

1. Threats slowly eat away at your relationship with your child. When kids grow up listening to their parents threaten them but never following through, they learn that their parents don’t mean what they say.

2. Threats make kids resent their parents. Short term behavior can be controlled using threats, but at what cost? Far from motivating children to listen and obey their parents, it leads instead to children resenting their parents and engage in power struggles.

3. Using punishment and threats is the same as using rewards – they rely on someone else to motivate a child’s behavior. Parent child relationships aren’t meant to be transactional – they’re meant to be relational

4. When kids are given a threat, they ask themselves, “Is this threat enough to stop my behavior?” Kid’s aren’t asking themselves, “How does my behavior affect others?”

5. When anyone (kids, or parents) are faced with a threat, their fight/flight/freeze response is activated in the brain. In this state, it’s impossible to think rationally. This means there’s literally no chance of communication and that’s why we find ourselves in a vicious cycle of threats and punishments.

6. Being truly motivated doesn’t happen because someone is threatening you. Motivation comes from feeling connected and understood.

7. When kids are threatened, they feel misunderstood and frustrated. They miss out on learning how to have empathy because they’re not shown it from their parents.


So what can you do instead?

🍁 Watch carefully what your child is doing. Observing them quietly buys you time to pause before reacting.

🍁 Think about the situation from their eyes. Putting yourself in their shoes and trying to understand the reason why they are behaving in such a way helps you be more empathetic. There’s often a very good reason why your child is misbehaving, and a very simple solution if you take the time to reflect.

🍁 Try and say something positive in an effort to connect your observations with their feelings. Letting your child know that you see their struggle, their pain, their frustration, can be really effective in neutralizing their resistance.

🍁Phrase what needs to be done in a question instead of in the form of a command. For example, saying something like, “What’s your plan for getting your homework done?” instead of “Go and do your homework” biologically makes it harder for your child to resist, and instead naturally encourages them to be relaxed as their brain searches for the answer. This takes some practice, but is very definitely an effective way to neutralize stubbornness.


To learn more effective strategies that you can incorporate with your children that are neither harsh nor punitive, but loving and firm, take our self-paced course, “Bring Positive Discipline into your home.”