PARENTS: How To Turn Empty Threats Into Discipline That Works

Your 3 year old wrote all over the TV with a permanent marker.  You freak out and say:  “That’s it!!!  No more TV for the rest of your life!”

Not only do you not follow through with this ridiculous threat but you don’t replace it with any form of effective discipline.  Your child has just learned that you don’t mean what you say.  Now who’s in the driver seat?  I’ll give you a hint, it’s not you.    

So what do you do?  How do you handle your anger and teach your child a lesson?

In the moment it’s okay to get angry as you’re only human, but just say, “I’m not happy with you.  I’m going to cool down and think about how to handle this.   I’ll get back to you 15 minutes before bedtime tonight.”

This serves 3 purposes:  

  1. It gives you time to cool down and think about how to punish them.   
  2. It gives them time to sweat and worry throughout the day.
  3. It shows them you’re in control.

My kids used to hate it when I did that.  They’d beg me to punish them right then and there but it was far too much fun making them sweat.  Then by the time I punished them it was pretty minor as making them sweat all day was really punishment enough.    

So you don’t need to know what to do in the moment, just delay the discipline.  They’ll probably be perfect angels for the rest of the day to boot … WIN!!!  

So how do you discipline for writing on the TV?  You could keep it simple and just ban TV for 2 days.  Or you could do what I’d do and get creative with it.  I’d say something like:

“You can choose either of the following punishments:  

  • No TV for 2 days
  • No TV for 1 day but you also have to be my assistant for the day and help me do laundry, clean the bathroom, etc.”

Believe it or not, that creative style of punishment is bonding as you’re spending the day together.  If my kids were my slaves, ooops I mean assistants, for the day I’d make sure to include some fun activities.    


What stupid things have you threatened?  I once told my son I was going to throw the Playstation in the garbage because he put his white socks in the darks laundry hamper.  I swear I saw him look over at the calendar where I used to keep track of my menstrual cycles.  Yes, it was right in line with my crazy time of the month.  

Lisa Bunnage, Parenting Coach


Absolute Best Punishment Method

imagesI guarantee this is the best punishment method for any age, even us adults.

If someone does something wrong, rather than adding another negative activity like taking away phones, video games, etc., it’s much better to have them do something positive.

Here’s a great example of this:

My teenage son kept leaving dirty dishes in the rec room.  I gave him the choice:  media blackout for a day or giving me a 30 minute shoulder massage.  As he got older he chose the blackout over giving Mom a massage … drats.  But at least he had the choice.

Looking back I could’ve been more creative and had him change and wash my bedding, vacuum my car, etc.  But what I always wanted was massages so that was always an option for them.  My daughter always took the massages, and my son did when younger too … it was great!!!  I used to hope they’d break a rule so I’d get a massage.

They grew up with such a sense of accountability that if I had to punish them they’d even apologize to me for having to do so.  They understood that I didn’t want to punish them, that it was as a result of their choices that it was happening.

By the way, the massage had to be 30 minutes long.  Not only was it a message that they were responsible for their own choices, but it was also a bonding experience for us both as we’d chat and laugh during the massage.  Once my poor son chose a 30 minute makeover on me rather than losing his precious video games for 24 hours.  I was laying on the couch while he put makeup on me and he said he felt like a serial killer preparing the corpse (haha … funny guy).

What creative punishments can you come up with?  Remember to give them the choice of something else so they don’t feel pressured to give you a pedicure, manicure, massage, etc.  Sometimes they’d rather media blackout that painting your toe nails … and I don’t blame them :).


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Parenting: Good Cop / Bad Cop

Here’s why you should both be fighting to be the Bad Cop:  Because it’s the easiest role to maintain and the one that gets the most respect.  And, contrary to popular belief, the Bad Cop can still be fun.

The Good Cop, on the other hand, is the one who usually gets the least respect and is the one the kids are most likely to push and test.  If you don’t have control, you have less stress-free time to enjoy the kids.

So, how do you decide who’s going to be which Cop?  Those are roles you’ll naturally just fall into.  Parents usually want to be the Good Cop as they see that as the more popular role, the one the kids are going to like more.  That’s just not the case.  It’s often the Bad Cop the kids naturally gravitate toward as they feel more security around the confident parent.

But, those roles don’t have to be at opposing sides.  One parent is usually the more strict and the other more easygoing, that doesn’t mean it’s all black and white.  Good Cop can easily maintain the rules and if all else fails, threaten the kids with the Bad Cop parent.  They already know you’re the softer parent, it’s no secret.  So let them know you’re okay with the roles you’re in and that they’re working just fine for everyone.  If you get that confident attitude toward the set-up, they will quickly learn that there’s no point pushing either parent’s buttons as you’re working as a team.

Once the Bad Cop gets the boundaries clearly defined, both can relax and there are no Cops necessary, just parents working as a team.  And cohesive teamwork is what makes it all work.

So, figure out your roles early on.  Get a good working system set-up and never oppose one another in front of the kids.  The hard work will be those first 3-4 years then you’ll just coast along as a cohesive team for about 10-12 years.  What happens next?  The Good Cop, Bad Cop routine is usually necessary again … but that’s another article.

Lisa Bunnage, Parenting Coach (email:  OR  phone:  604-944-7479)