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Juliet Linley Headshot

Too Many Threats

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"You threaten your kids too much."

That sentence, said with gentle firmness, made such an impression on my friend Amanda that she repeated it to us the moment we saw each other again once the summer was over.

Who said it? Her mother, the grandmother of her three sons.

"And you know what?" Amanda said to us when our group of mothers and kids met up again after the holidays at Rome's Villa Borghese playground, "She's right!"

We immediately asked for clarifications and her answer was dead simple.

"My mother led me to understand that threats shouldn't be the motivating force behind getting kids to do certain things -- because one day they won't work anymore and we'll be left powerless."

"What do you mean?" I asked her.

"Okay," Amanda said, "For instance, I often say to the boys: 'If you don't eat your courgettes you won't get any dessert'. Or: 'If you don't tidy up your room, you can't watch any cartoons.' Or again: 'If don't get straight into the car, you can't have a lollypop...' and my mom pointed out that sooner or later they'll answer:

'I don't want dessert anyway,' or: 'I don't care about watching cartoons,' or again: 'I don't feel like a lollypop'. And at that point, I'll be left totally helpless!"

Her mother suggested she simply repeat that Mummy wants them to do this or that. Full stop, end of story. Not because otherwise they cannot have this or that reward. Or this or that surprise. But simply because that thing needs to be done. And no arguing about it.

"I've never used threats," Rosie tells us, regarding her two little girls. "I've always preferred to say: 'As soon as you finish your courgettes, you'll be able to have your dessert,' or: 'As soon as your room is tidy, you can watch cartoons.'"

"It's certainly a more positive way of getting things done, that's true," Amanda answered. "But it's still true that in the end, if the reward no longer works as bait, the result is the same...and you end up powerless."

And that's exactly the grandmother's point, I believe.