The Difference Between Threats and Warnings

November 10, 2011 | By | 4 Replies More

“Get over here right now or no T.V.!”

“You will lose that ball for one day if you throw it again.”

“You better stop that right now.  Do you want a spanking?”

“If you continue to argue with me, you will go to your room.”

Can you identify which of the above statements are threats and which ones are warnings?

If you said 1 and 3 are threats, you are right. So what is the big deal about threats?  Are they really all that bad? How can they be bad if they sometimes work? Are threats different from warnings? Here we will explore the answers to these questions.

Are Threats Bad?

Before we can answer this, we need to define threats as they pertain to parenting.

Most often, threats:

  • are said in haste with little fore thought
  • are aimed at achieving instant results (ie: change in behavior)
  • stem from frustration, annoyance or anger of the parent
  • are nothing more than empty words
  • are not enforced
  • are given by parents with no energy or desire to enforce
Based on these definitions, you are probably now better able to answer the question in the heading of this section.  Yes. Threats are bad. Threats (and bribes too for that matter) are fundamentally motivated by a parent’s desire to trade in an opportunity for training for his or her own comfort. Typically, the parent feels out of control and is seeking to regain that control as quickly and completely as possible. When we rely too much on threats, we prevent our children from learning the valuable and biblical lesson that blessings come from obedience and problems come from disobedience.  We have a duty to warn, but the decision to obey or disobey lies squarely in our children’s laps.  Every time we provide them with a consequence for their misbehavior, they learn this important truth.

Threats versus Warnings

Here are some basic differences between threats and warnings.

  • Threats seek instant gratification. Warnings maintain a bigger picture.
  • Threats are used when parents feel out of control. Warnings are used by parents who feel calm and in control.
  • Threats are often empty words. Warnings are followed up by actions.
  • Threats do nothing to train the child. Warnings focus on training, even if things get worse before they get better.
  • Threats are general. Warnings are specific.
  • Threats are often said in a disrespectful or abrasive tone. Warnings are said calmly with little or no emotion.
More Examples
  • “We’re going to leave if you don’t knock it off.”
  • “You’re going to get it when we get home.”
  • “Keep acting like that.  You’ll see what it gets you.”
  • “You better clean up your room or I’m going to take it all away and throw it in the dumpster.”
  • “If your room is not cleaned up by 5:00, you will not be able to go to Kelly’s tonight.”
  • “Please sit still.  If you don’t, you will get a time out.”
  • “If you forget to put your bike away today, you will not be able to ride it for three days.”
  • “Homework must be done before dinner.  If not, no t.v. tonight.”
Here’s my challenge for you over the next couple of days:  listen closely to your interactions with your children.  Are you threatening instead of warning? Does your tone of voice convey confidence or annoyance? What can you do to eliminate empty threats from you parenting tool box?

Think also on God’s model for us in His word.  Over and over again, God warned His people of the consequences of disobedience through His prophets. His people were faced with a choice: turn away from their evil ways and obey or continue on the path of disobedience and suffer the consequences.  When their hearts softened and they repented, God forgave.  We can do the same.

Category: Discipline, Featured Articles, Parenting Basics

Laura Kuehn, LCSW

About the Author

Laura Kuehn, LCSW is a licensed clinical social worker specializing in children and families. CfP is the place she combines some of her very favorite things: writing, parenting and God's word. She loves encouraging parents to build their families upon Jesus, the one true Cornerstone. She is happily married to a wonderfully supportive husband and is the mother of two delightfully inspiring children.

Comments (4)

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  1. Alphonse says:

    Good article.

  2. Steve Turner says:

    Thank you for the definition. I knew there was a difference but just wasn’t sure how to clearly define it.

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