I’ve always been wholly perplexed by how parents here warn their children of consequences they are both aware will never materialise
Marxem!” (We’re leaving!) “Ja esta, anem cap a casa de l’avia!” (That’s it, we’re going to grandma’s house!) “S’ha acabat!” (It’s over!) ”Ja no hi ha més!” (That’s it, no more!). All delivered in a raised voice and with a huge amount of emotion. And yet they’re still there half an hour later. What’s that all about?
I’ve always been wholly perplexed by how parents here warn their children of consequences they are both aware will never materialise. It began for me when my son first started attending school, so some 14 years ago, as parents would gather outside the gates to collect their children after school. Naturally, the kids would want to play after coming out and would be allowed to run around, climb trees, jump in puddles, scale rocks, and so on, as young children are wont to do. What attracted my attention, and also some passing comments, me being an interventionist kind of guy, were the empty threats issued constantly by the parents around me, like the ones mentioned at the beginning of this article. When I did mention that it seemed pointless to keep issuing the same threats and then do nothing about it, I was met with a generalised a) discomfort at me publicly commenting on other people’s parenting skills – fair enough, and belated apologies to those affected, I have learnt to be less vocal and more diplomatic nowadays – and b) confusion at what I was talking about. Didn’t everyone threaten their children with consequences for their non-cooperation? Yes, of course they did, but then they followed through with them, otherwise the child will obviously learn to ignore any threat – and quite rightly be taken aback if the parent does actually follow through with it, i.e. change their accustomed behaviour at some point in the future – and perhaps more importantly learn not to believe what their parents say. This to me represented a complete communication breakdown with your child, surely they need to know that when you say something you mean it?
So is this a cultural thing? I think it is, as in other cultures I’ve lived in I think there tends to be more consistency between what parents say and what they do. In fact, I found myself listening to parents here joking about saying one thing but then obviously not actually doing it, it just being a way of getting their kids to cooperate.
By contrast, much to my son’s chagrin, when I told him we were leaving, we were leaving. Other parents and children looked on baffled when I always did what I’d said I was going to do. In other words, followed through with my “threat” because my son wasn’t cooperating, despite his protestations.
Years later, when I heard the same parents make comments about how well-behaved my son was, that I was lucky he didn’t answer me back, that he did what he was asked to do without complaining or rebelling, and phrases like “How lucky you are!” “What a good boy you’ve got there!” “He turned out well, didn’t he?” and so on, I would raise my eyebrows in response. You see, I’ve learnt to keep my mouth shut in situations like that. And luckily for me I have this column to communicate my thoughts. Here are this month’s: empty threats don’t work.