Parenting with Threats: Why It's Wrong, and How to Stop

Being a parent is a complicated job, and there is no handbook. One thing to keep clear is that parenting with threats is a mistake. Learn which techniques are more effective for raising healthy, emotionally balanced children, without resorting to scare tactics.
Parenting with Threats: Why It's Wrong, and How to Stop

Last update: 02 March, 2018

Parenting with threats is a mistake. Threats rely on fear, and using fear to educate sets a poor example.

“If you don’t pick up those toys right now, I’m never buying you any toys ever again.” This threat, and ones like it, are common ways to get children to do what we tell them.

In this article, we’ll examine why this kind of parenting is damaging, and how to avoid it.

The effect of threats on children

Many parents resort to threats to educate their children. The problem with this is that children quickly realize when their parents fail to keep their promises – or to live up to their threats.

Many threats are unrealistic. It would be difficult or impossible to fully apply them. Empty threats can lead children to lose respect for the authority of their parents.

Instead of falling into this trap, parents should develop other childrearing strategies. The best are those that help you better understand the workings of your child’s brain.

These strategies will help you educate your children effectively, without resorting to empty words.

Similarly, by avoiding educating with threats, your children see you as positive and kind, and not as as a negative, authoritarian figure.

Why is parenting with threats a mistake?

Turning to childrearing techniques which use fear to instill certain behavior is a mistake. In the long term, using threats can even be counterproductive. Here’s why:

  • Threats create an atmosphere of insecurity and mistrust within the family.
  • This is an authoritarian parenting style, which goes against modern theories of learning.
  • Parenting with threats replicates violence within the home.
  • Inconsistency between what parents say and what they do.
Parenting with Threats: Why It's Wrong, and How to Stop

The serious consequences of parenting with threats

Threats are not a good tool for raising children. Although they may seem like empty words, they are a clear demonstration of psychological violence.

Sometimes, threats are accompanied by shouting, which can affect children’s behavior and psychological wellbeing.

Among the consequences of the overuse of threats:

  • Children will not take responsibility for their actions. They will respond to threats, but only to avoid punishment or the loss of a benefit or reward.
  • Parents become less credible in their children’s eyes. This is because, in moments of anger, they make threats that are so severe that they would be impossible to implement.
  • Children lose confidence in themselves. When parents make threats, children begin to fear their reaction and don’t develop their own criteria and self-control.
  • Children suffer from stress, which is not beneficial for their emotional development.

Threats only show that parents lack other resources for childrearing.

3 effective parenting solutions

For a parent to have authority in the eyes of their children, what they say must be coherent with what they actually do.

  • Don’t invoke drastic consequences. These will not be effective. Your child knows that you will not be able to follow through.
  • Never promise something that you are not sure if you will be able to deliver.
  • Keep your promises, whether these are positive or negative.
Parenting with Threats: Why It's Wrong, and How to Stop

How to raise children without threats

When parents use threats to try to shape their children’s behavior, this only shows that they lack other resources for childrearing. This style of childrearing is a sign of trouble setting boundaries and a weak family connection.

With this in mind, avoid common but ineffective parenting techniques such as:

  • Lectures
  • Manipulation and blackmail
  • Verbal or physical abuse
  • Overuse of rewards and punishments

Instead, teach your children that making mistakes is normal. Help them to learn from and correct their errors. Show them that no blunder is big enough to make you stop loving them.

This does not mean that you should stop disciplining your child. Parenting with threats is a mistake that brings negative consequences in both the short and long term.

Understand your child and help them do the best they can because they want to, not because they are afraid of what will happen otherwise.


All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.