Ultimatums never work! Read why.

By Robyn Welling

Babies are sweet and cuddly and smell like sugar-coated sunshine (well, most of the time anyway), but babies can also be incredibly frustrating, mostly because the main form of communication between mother and child is crying. On both sides.

“Won’t it be amazing,” we foolishly think, “when this baby can understand what I’m saying? When we can have a real conversation and she can explain exactly why she’s screaming her head off at 2 AM?”

Then your child gets older, and she can tell you exactly why she’s screaming (usually something super logical like “THIS SWEATER IS TOO SWEATERY”) and you realize this communication stuff isn’t exactly all it’s cracked up to be. Tears made much more sense when you thought the problems were potentially life threatening.

You try logic, you try reason, you try begging and bribery, but eventually desperation leads every parent to the dead end of negotiation tools: the ultimatum. FYI, those never ever work.

7 ultimatums and the reasons why they won’t work:

“Sit here until you’ve cleaned your plate.”

I don’t know if you’ve met many kids, but if you think you can bore them into eating, you’re sadly mistaken. They’ll just sit there, happily pretending their fingers are superheroes, sending evil Green Bean Guy to his ultimate demise in a pile of slowly congealing mashed potatoes, until you send them to bed. Later, you’ll bring them a peanut butter sandwich—the same food they asked for two hours ago—because you’re pretty sure sending a hungry kid to bed results in a 3am wake-up call from your now STARVING offspring.

“If you don’t clean your room, I’m throwing all these toys away.”

Congratulations, your kid just tricked you into cleaning their room! Because let’s face it, angrily stuffing $1500 worth of toys into trash bags gets the job done, but it also gives you plenty of time to think about the sad fact that you’re the one who’s going to be paying for their replacements. As if on autopilot, you’ll slowly switch tactics and put the toys back where they belong.

“Get dressed right now or we’re staying home.”

Unless you were on your way to Candy Video Game Island, chances are your kid wanted to stay home anyway.

“No more iPad until you apologize to your sister.”

This one works pretty well, as long as your kids don’t call your bluff. As soon as they do, they realize you need the peace and quiet of screen time even more than they want to play on their screens. Besides, the iPad is pretty much the only thing that’s going to distract them from continuing to fight with each other for the rest of the day.

“Cut it out right now or I’m turning this car around!”

No parent in the history of parenting has actually followed through on this threat. Somehow children are born with this knowledge. They ain’t buying it.

“I’m going to count to three…”

And then what? Exactly. If a mom ever figures out something effective we can do after “3” that doesn’t involve screaming into a pillow or day drinking, she’s going to be a millionaire.

Sometimes an ultimatum is unavoidable, but most of the time, it’s preferable to try some tried-and-true discipline techniques that are proven to work—like yelling.


This post was a collaboration with Robyn Welling. To read more from Robyn, visit Hollow Tree Ventures.

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