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Communication Killers: Empty Threats and Hollow Promises

How to communicate effectively with kids

I talk quite often about the importance of communication when it comes to the relationship between you and your children. It applies in every aspect of life, but it's particularly important when it comes to kids. You're teaching them the skills that they will use in their own lives after all. When it comes to communication there are two things that will shut a child's trust down faster than anything else.

Empty threats and hollow or broken promises are the two biggest communication killers that can collapse even the most solid relationships. Today we're going to break down these two relationship breakers. We will discuss their composition, why we unwittingly do them, and most importantly how to avoid doing it in the future.

Are you ready to build stronger bonds through stronger and more effective communication? Let's jump into it!

Communication Killers: Empty Threats and Hollow Promises happy family

Empty Threats

Empty threats are similar to broken promises, even if they aren't as fun to carry out. Children are extraordinarily good at deciphering which punishments are impossible to be enforced, and they won't hesitate to push the envelope when presented with an empty threat. If you can't follow through with what you say then DO NOT SAY IT.

We might think children will be scared straight when we threaten to throw away every toy in the house the next time you step on a LEGO in the hallway, but they know that you're bluffing or speaking out of anger even if they can't verbally communicate that fact. A LEGO will end up in the hallway again, and when you don't follow through their faith in you is damaged.

Communication Killers: Empty Threats and Hollow Promises happy siblings

How about another classic? "If you don't hurry up then we're leaving without you!" It worked wonders for a long time, until our little girl got old enough to realize that she'd actually really like some time alone at home at the tender age of 11. "Good! Leave me here!" she shouted. My spouse and I looked at each other in panic. Our bluff had been called. We never intended to leave her. So I snapped "JUST HURRY UP!" and retreated to the car with my tail between my legs.

I might write parenting blogs as part of my living, but I'm certainly human. I've lost my temper more times than I dare to recount and with that comes the empty threats that make my children take me less seriously as a parent. It seems like an easy solution in the moment, but the time will come that your bluff will be called and your kids might find out that you aren't the perfect (if not slightly manipulable) specimen they presumed you to be.

Communication Killers: Empty Threats and Hollow Promises mom and daughter

Hollow Promises

Have you ever promised your child something that you couldn't deliver? "Hey, if you bring home a perfect report card, we'll get you that Nintendo Switch you've had your eye on." Then the unthinkable happens, that perfect report card comes and you don't have the cash on hand to back up your promise. At this point perhaps you push the deadline back and tell your child "Oh, great job but we have to wait."

How many times do you think children are inclined to wait before they throw in the towel and accept that they worked hard for a promise which never came to fruition? Depending on the child, you might get one deadline extension. Other kids will melt down on the spot, and I can't say they're completely in the wrong. They worked hard for a promised reward and were let down.

Eventually it will get to the point that whenever a reward is offered they'll roll their eyes and say "Yea, whatever." It's only in extremely rare or dire circumstances that I will attempt to motivate my children with the big money and fabulous prizes. Usually token rewards and kind words are enough, but if I even choose to promise something big you'd better believe that I'll deliver on it. What kind of token rewards? Well, my kids are crazy about no tie curly shoelaces and those can be picked up for a steal. A set of metal rainbow shoehorns can also please and last for a good long while.

Communication Killers: Empty Threats and Hollow Promises happy group

Say What You Mean

The only advice that you need in order to avoid empty threats and hollow promises is this: Always say what you mean. Think carefully about punishments before you issue them. Keep them on a manageable scale both in magnitude and time. I can easily keep my kids grounded with no electronics for a day or two, but by the time my spouse and I are headed back to work? Things get a lot more iffy and they'll figure out a way to circumvent the rules.

The better you enforce punishments, the more seriously they will take it when you say 'if you don't put these toys away I'm going to keep them from you for a week'. Timelines are your friend. The same goes for promises. 'If you bring home a perfect report card, we will get you a switch before the next school year starts'. Congratulations, you just bought yourself 3 months to come up with money for a console.

If you aren't speaking carefully and saying what you mean, you can bet that your children will start to do the same. That included those who care for your child. Find out how to pick the right child care facility. If I hear untruths fall from their mouths I wonder where they learned lie like that, and then I think back to some of the things I've said and want to give my former self a kick in the rear. Keep learning and improving, and these things will get easier with time. If you need time to think up a reward or punishment, just say so. "I'll tell you tomorrow" sounds simple but it can go so far in fostering effective communication.


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