It’s so easy to make threats as a dad. If you don’t stop that, I’m going to turn the TV off. If you don’t start being nicer to your brother, we’re going to go home. You have to pick up your clothes first, or else there is no snack. You do it when they’re little, and if you remember your own childhood, it keeps happening all the way through—about curfew, about grades, about keeping their room clean, about how you talk to people.
But while making threats is easy, keeping one’s word is harder. Because the link you made between a clean room and the TV was totally artificial and you didn’t really mean it. Because you still want to go to the basketball game with your daughter, and really don’t want to have to enforce it as a punishment. Think about Obama and the red line he drew in Syria. He meant it…but he didn’t really mean it, and when his bluff got called, the whole national security picture changed.
As a parent, it’s critical that you mean what you say. So enforce every threat with the firmness of a dictator? No, how about you make fewer threats? How about you stop forcing things together that you’re not serious about? This way when you do make a causal link, it’s because it matters. When you draw a line, know that it’s worth enforcing. Know that you will enforce it.
So your kids learn that words mean something. Specifically that your words mean something.