One of the Most Dangerous Phrases Used in Parenting

Nearly every parent is doing it... but should they?

There’s a phrase that can be heard almost anywhere at anytime where parents and children are present, if you’ll listen for it.  And it’s one of the most dangerous phrases used in parenting.

In general, the scenario goes like this – Johnny does something that he either knows is against the rules or something that his parents don’t approve of, and mom’s or dad’s first trigger response is to (almost like a gag reflex) throw out the “ threat phrase”…

Can you guess what it is?

It’s one of the most dangerous, yet commonly used, phrases in parenting, and it’s this – “If you do that again…”

Have you noticed?  Nearly every parent is doing it. Threatening their child with some consequence “if they do it again.” (As if they’re challenging their child to test them to see what happens, and that’s usually exactly what the child does)

I’m amazed at how often I hear parents use this phrase, and surprised at how I’ve even caught myself or my wife using it on occasion as well.

Sadly, it’s almost as if many parents have been subconsciously trained to respond in this singular way to their child’s misbehavior – to whip out the “threat phrase”.

There are two main problems with using this threat phrase:

1) Parents usually use the threat phrase as an alternative to actually enforcing any consequence at all  

Sadly, this approach to parenting does no favors for anyone, whether parent or child, but instead, simply salves the conscience of parents to think that they’re being ‘big and bad’ when in reality, they’re doing nothing.  

Also, it’s causing kids to realize that they can intentionally do wrong, knowing that they’ll not be disciplined without first being given a warning with the threat phrase.  This is potentially very dangerous in any family, laying the early groundwork of parental inconsistency in our child’s heart and mind.  

Another huge problem with the threat phrase is this:

2) Kids have been programmed to know by previous instances that the threat phrase is nothing more than clouds without rain

One of the major problems with using the threat phrase as a parenting philosophy is this… In most cases (as far as I’ve seen), very rarely does a parent follow through with the stated consequence.

“If a parent is not willing to expect immediate obedience, they’re probably also not going to enforce immediate consequences.”

How many times have we heard parents use the threat phrase by saying something like this, “If you do _______ again, you’re going to get a _______,” or “If you don’t stop ________, you’re not going to get to _________.”  But less than 5 minutes later, the child does the exact same thing, and the parent says the exact same threat, just a little bit louder, but with no enforced consequence.

Does anyone else see the massive problem with this?  We’re inadvertently training our children to do the exact opposite of what we actually want, by encouraging disobedience through our lack of consistency.

I’m not arguing that you should never give your child a warning.  However, establish with them that warnings will be given at your discretion when a violation is unclear or no rules have been previously established.

There are times in every family when a child simply needs instruction or an explanation on why certain things are wrong.  That also provides us with the chance for a teachable moment.  But let’s also make sure to use it as an opportunity to make the expectation clear for the future.

However, when children are in clear violation of our expectations and multiple threats are given, or the volume of the threats is increased, none of those things accomplish anything positive for the child. 

This flawed approach works no better than the “I’m going to count to 3, and you’d better….” which teaches our kids nothing more than delayed obedience.

When we see this becoming so common in our society, it ought to cause us to stop and ask ourselves some honest questions:

  • What ever happened to courageous parenting that says what it means and means what it says?
  • What ever happened to parents expecting obedience out of their children the first time?
  • What ever happened to enforcing consequences when rules are broken without caving in to worry about what your kids or anyone else is going to think of you?
  • What ever happened to parents who aren’t afraid to be the parents?

Chasten thy son while there is hope, and let not thy soul spare for his crying.  Proverbs 19:18

When you’re tempted not to enforce a consequence that would otherwise develop obedience and character in your child’s life, remember the future alternative if you don’t. 

Now no chastening for the present seemeth to be joyous, but grevious; nevertheless afterward it yieldeth the peaceable fruit of righteousness unto them which are exercised thereby.  Hebrews 12:11  

Good, godly, and obedient kids don’t raise themselves.  Good, godly, and obedient parents do.

Are you guilty of falling into the dangerous trap of threat phrase parenting?

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