DO WHAT YOU SAY YOU WILL DO…ALWAYS
Imagine a workplace where the Boss makes a statement like this: “If you don’t finish that report by end of today, you will be fired!’ And then, when the employee doesn’t finish the report, nothing happens. No one is fired. The boss meekly thanks him for the report when he handed it in the following week. No firing, not even a warning.
What will happen the next time the boss makes a similar demand? Hasn’t the employee already learned that the threats are just…well, threats? The employee’s behavior will not change – why would it?
What does the future look like for that company?
The boss gets increasingly frustrated, the employee performance suffers since there are no repercussions and the reports are handed in late on a consistent basis. That department soon falls into chaos impacting the entire company.
NO DIFFERENCE AT HOME
Why should we expect anything different from our children when we make idle threats that we don’t keep?
We have all seen it a thousand times. Parents use the exact same formula: demand, threat, inaction.
“If you don’t stop what you are doing right now, we are leaving this party and going home!” Child continues the behavior and the parent does nothing about it.
“If you don’t stop teasing your little brother, you are going to your room!” Parent throws hands in the air in frustration.
“If you don’t stay in your chair, we will never take you out to eat again!” Of course, there will be future trips to restaurants.
The problem is not just promising a punishment that is never delivered. It begins before that. The problem is making a threat that you either don’t intend to or unable to enforce. The root problem is promising something before thinking it through and determining if you will take the action you stated.
By promising a punishment you really never intend to act upon, you are placing yourself in a no-win corner. The child learns that the threats aren’t real and, therefore, doesn’t change behavior. You have made a promise you can’t or won’t deliver so you have given up your power and your authority. You have also begun a cycle that will only escalate, probably beyond the merits of the original mis-behavior.
So, the first step is to never promise anything, punishment or reward, that you aren’t willing and able to act upon exactly as promised.
Don’t simply throw out the first thing that comes to mind. Pause a moment to reflect. Sometimes, in order to change behavior, the punishment doesn’t have to be immediate, as long as it is carried out.
For example, if leaving a party immediately is just not possible or preferable, promise a result that will occur at a later time, such as no video games for a week. Follow this same process each time:
- Get your child’s full attention. Never make this type of promise to a running child or one still engaged in play. If you want the message to truly be received, you must have the full attention of the child.
- Explain the unacceptable behavior.
- Explain what will happen if nothing changes.
- Allow the child make up his or her own mind as to what action they will take.
Unless the behavior is life-threatening, you might allow the child to continue the behavior unabated.
Yet, imagine the reaction when, hours later, you calmly implement the punishment and, for example, removed the game device. The next time, if there is a next time, the child will take the promise much more seriously.
This is the most critical step; Never promise a result of continued unacceptable behavior without keeping your promise. You must show the child consistency and that your promises are not idle threats.
Never make a promise to a child, or anyone for that matter, that you aren’t going to keep.
Please understand that by “punishment” I don’t endorse or encourage corporeal punishment for a child. Punishment is simply meant to describe a result of unacceptable behavior. It is up to you, the parent or care-giver, what is fair and just for your child.
Even though I used the word, “child” throughout this blog, I suggest the same rules apply when dealing with teenagers and people at work you manage. As a parent and manager myself for over
35 years, I have lived by this concept and it has always worked well for me.