Your kid is playing with a ball in the house, pulling the dog’s tail, or dumping their food on the floor—any number of things they know or have been told not to do. The natural parental instinct is to give your kid a warning to stop doing the bad behavior “or else” they will face the consequences. But how many times does that response work out in your favor? Chances are, not very often. That’s because giving warnings isn’t particularly effective.
“Can you ever imagine saying to your kid: ‘This is your last warning. If you run into oncoming traffic again, you’re losing your iPad for the week,'” says parenting expert and clinical psychologist Dr. Becky Kennedy (known to the world as “Dr. Becky”) in a recent Instagram post. That scenario is ridiculous, and of course, you’d never react this way. “We would pick up our kids. We would not let them run into oncoming traffic again. So why do we set our kids up for failure and set ourselves up for frustration?”
Instead of warning our kids not to do the bad behavior again, Dr. Kennedy suggests that a better way to address the situation is to use the phrase: “I won’t let you.” For example, if your child is repeatedly throwing that ball, you’d say: “Hey you’re having a hard time having that ball and not throwing it inside the house. I am taking it; I am putting it away. In a little bit, we can go outside and throw the ball. I will not let you throw it in here again.” (You could sub in other things here, like removing a remote or plug, if there’s a TV battle, or the item of food or bowl they keep throwing.)
“I’m saying ‘I won’t let you‘ not because I want to be a dictator to my kid, but because I want to protect my kid from having another version of this bad behavior [and] feeling frustrated,” explains Dr. Kennedy. The “warnings” approach encourages that kind of endless loop. The “not letting” response, on the other hand, stops the behavior and also prevents you from having to enforce a punishment that you don’t want to—like taking away their iPad privileges (i.e., everyone loses).
“[The] alternative to warnings [is] embodying your authority, setting a boundary, and intervening earlier. It is better for everyone.” Does this mean you’ll always be 100 percent successful? Nope. Does it mean you’ll miraculously avoid a tantrum? Also no. But it’s definitely worth trying to save yourself another round of threats and additional disciplinary action.