Serving ‘hot air’ punishments: The making of poor parenting

A rude child.

A rude child.

Photo credit: Shutterstock

It only occurred to me the other day that despite being the drill sergeant in my home, the one who enforces the rules, demands good behaviour and expects everyone to fulfill their responsibilities without fail, my children don’t ‘fear’ me, or, to be more specific, are less inclined to obey me. Instead, whenever I read the riot act to the two older ones for slacking, they look at me warily, but thoroughly unperturbed, and exchange furtive glances which silently seem to say, “there she goes again…”

It is different with their father, however. The irony is that even though he is the more relaxed parent, the one who occasionally allows them to get away with murder, so to speak, and who often finds humour in their misbehaviour and intervenes once in a while when I go at them for mistakes made or conveniently forgotten chores, his word is law. He only needs to say something once, and it is speedily and strictly obeyed. As for me, I sometimes have to repeat an instruction several times for it to stick. Having observed this, and feeling greatly offended and frustrated by this state of affairs, I recently asked him why our children react this differently towards us.

“Because all you do is issue threats…” he answered without hesitation.

He explained that since I rarely follow through with the consequences I threaten them with for misbehaviour, over time, they have learnt not to take me seriously, after all, all I will do is “make noise” and move on. They long since realised that the consequences that I scare them with are just that - hot air, empty talk.

I must say that this revelation hit me like a thunderbolt. All those instances over the years when I have ‘disciplined’ my children flashed in front of me. When they were much younger, for instance, I cannot even remember the number of times I promised to leave them behind on their own if they did not finish their food, even though I absolutely had no intention of leaving them home alone. And if memory serves me well, I even once threatened to sell off one of them in the market for disobeying me.


And how many times had I promised to spank them for wrongdoing yet never did? Or announced that I would deny them television for a month for disobedience, a threat that never materialised? Ladies and gentlemen, to say that I was mortified is an understatement. It was shocking that I could be this blind to such a glaring parenting shortcoming.

Even though their father rarely disciplined them, when he announced a punishment, he actually followed it through. He did what he said he would do without fail, and knowing this, and better still, having been recipients of the said punishments, our children were motivated to obey their father, a factor that took away the need to discipline them. It was that simple.

I have since been working hard at trying to wean myself of this behaviour, and I am happy to report that I have been making good progress. I am making less idle threats, and as a result, my children are becoming more obedient and are now quicker to listen. Who is it that said you cannot teach an old dog new tricks?

The writer is editor, Society and Magazines, Daily Nation.   Email: [email protected]


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