Empty threats and the effectiveness of the silent treatment

The other day I uttered my last empty threat. Theoretically speaking.

If you’re a seasoned parent you will easily recall the last time you uttered an empty threat (in my case, 30 minutes ago) and you will accept the fact that it was completely beyond your control. After all, they made you do it.

They always make you do it…

Empty threats are a funny thing. You don’t believe in their effectiveness, and you don’t endorse them, but at the same time you are not surprised when you hear yourself utter those ridiculous words:

No more playdates for you!
Tomorrow you will come straight home from school and do your homework, and no soccer after school!
I will cancel your next hockey/gymnastics!
I will not pack you a cookie with your lunch!
I’m going to eat all your Easter chocolate!

Ok, that last one may have a smidgen of truth to it, but whatever.

Last night I put my kids to bed at 7:26 pm.

They share a room so there was still no quiet.  But I figured the empty threats weren’t working anyway, I usually just manage to get myself all worked up which isn’t helping anyone get, and stay, calm, and taking away privileges doesn’t work either.

Apparently I am also clueless about discipline and punishment.

Well not clueless. I know all about them in theory. It’s just that in practice, none of it actually works how it’s supposed to, or how I envision it. My kids always have their own agenda.

For reasons not completely clear to me, but likely due to the fact that I am not battling fatigue or depression at the moment, I was able to step back during an escalating situation that occurred in the later part of the afternoon and into evening. Basically I stop talking altogether. Here is what I discovered:

Silence is a surprisingly effective parenting tool.

Now please don’t misunderstand. I did not ignore them. Ignoring is a form of neglect, and although I will applaud any parent who has the wisdom to step away and ignore their kids during moments when one’s own emotional state is precariously fragile, these short spurts of time-outs for the parent are necessary and normal.

I am also not talking about going off into a room with a bowl of candy or a bottle  of wine, leaving them to their own devices.

I am talking about stopping the words from coming out of my mouth. They’re not effective anyway, make no difference to the kids at all, and possibly escalate the circumstances you’re trying to eliminate.

By keeping silent I don’t mean I stop communicating, either. I was, when they were challenging me with their retribution, gesticulating like a crazy Italian (I’m party Italian so no offense implied), using sign language like STOP, or pointing, to get the respect I expected. I also pressed my lips together really tight, a sign they’ve recognized as Momma-volcano about to erupt.

I succeeded in keeping silent, and relatively calm.

First I helped the 4 year old to brush her teeth, then tuck her in. I even made her a warm bunny to cuddle up to. Then I took the 7 year old by the hand, which he refused to give me, then by the arm, ignoring his very hurtful “mommy don’t kill me, mommy don’t hurt me, mommy you are pulling my arm” and led him – guided him – gently to the bathroom.* I silently pointed to his tooth brush, and closed the door. He yelled “I’m not going to bed after this!”.

I thought great, he’s catching on quick. He’s no dummy. And oh yes you are.

It took until 8:03 for peace and quiet to present itself. She eventually and with a whole lot of complaining simply fell asleep, but not until after I placed a blanket on her bottom bunk to shield out the light. Her brother tried only once to leave the bed, which resulted in more gesticulating and pointing right back up the ladder, and he caught on. He wasn’t tired so I broke my vow of silence to allow him to read up there, which he continued doing until his dad came home. And he was enjoying it, despite himself.

The whole situation makes me reflect. It has been a challenging few months which started about November and continued on, and off, until now. I need to nip it in the butt. Now.

I’m slowly but surely figuring out that everything I’ve read, whether I agreed or disagreed with its principles, has had a profound effect on me. I’m also learning that my way, and ultimately our way of parenting our children is a sum of many parts. Figuring it out and getting there is a tedious journey, but an important one. I realize with every passing day that applying only one idea or another is not ever going to achieve the kind of result I want. Nor will my perceived success last night necessarily result in the same way tonight. Or tomorrow.  Too many factors will affect future outcomes.

Now if the kids would just stop changing their own agendas, I could have a nice, orderly parenting plan…

Still, last night has been an eye-opening experience for me. And I truly believe that early bed-times in this house will prevail for some time. Sanity saving quiet time in the evenings…what a concept.

* * *

* How he learned to use language toward his own mother like that which might induce an observing stranger to contact Child Services on me, particularly with both kids displaying an assortment of bruises, cuts, and missing teeth, is causing me to understand on a deep and profound level just how powerful society has made children, and how utterly powerless and cautious parents have become.


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