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The Difference Between Threats and Warnings

Threats may give you instant results, but do nothing to train your child. Learn the difference between threats and warnings with definitions and examples.

“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 keep you hands to yourself. If you don’t, you will earn 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.

This article is for informational purposes only and is not intended as a substitute for treatment from a qualified mental health professional. Cornerstones for Parents is not liable for any advice, tips, techniques, and recommendations the reader chooses to implement.

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About Laura

Laura Kuehn, LCSW

Laura is a licensed clinical social worker who offers individual therapy to women and moms in Connecticut. She is the author of More Than a Conqueror, A Christian Kid's Guide to Winning the War on Worry. Cornerstones for Parents is the place she combines some of the things she is most passionate about: God's word, parenting and mental health.


  • Hi- This post focused on the difference between threats and warnings that parents say to their kids. If you are struggling to address issues regarding laziness in your son, you might consider looking at it from a perspective of need. What does my son need to be organized? What takes away his motivation? What does he need to feel invested in and connected to our family? The answers to these questions can help you get to the bottom of the behavior and address the root cause. It will help you approach the problem from an encouraging and equipping angle.

    I hope that helps,

  • Your article has helped me regarding this question. Before I read this article, the two words seemed synonymous. Now, I think the will and intent of both parties are the deciding factors between them. There seems to be a selfish ill will intended by a threat, while there is an unselfish good will intended by a warning. For example, “If you don’t eat your veggies, you’re not going to get dessert.” As a parent who wants her child to eat healthy food, this is intended as a warning. The parent knows that veggies are certainly better than sweets. The child however sees it as a threat. They don’t care if veggies are good for them, they like sweets better. As my youngest son regularly informed me regarding dessert, ” It’s good for my body!”

    Threats intend ill will and harm to the person receiving it, by the person giving it. But why? What is motivating the threat? Malice, laziness, willful ignorance? None of those motivations are good. But again, someone who is doing a bad thing can perceive a well intended warning to be a threat, out of ignorance or rebellion.

    “Woe to those who call evil good
    and good evil,
    who put darkness for light
    and light for darkness,
    who put bitter for sweet
    and sweet for bitter.”
    Isaiah 5:20

    God’s righteousness is the anchor to our conscience of what is right, and what is wrong. To me, an evil person issues threats, whether veiled or outright. And whether they make good on them or not, the threat benefits only them. A righteous person issues warnings, as they benefit everyone. As of right now, that’s what I think.😀

    • Hi Heather – thank you so much for your thoughts and comments. I personally find that when I am feeling lazy or without resources and patience, I tend to make more threats rather than take the time to be thoughtful and caring with a warning. The heart motivation behind correction reveals a lot 😉 Parenting is a refining process used by the Lord to make us more like Him.

      Thanks again. God bless,

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