Unique Parenting Tip: Why You Should Use Positive Threats

When I lived at home there were a few threats I heard over and over again:

“If you do not pick up the dirty clothes, you are not going to get all of your allowance!”

“If you do not finish your homework, you are going to have a terrible report card and that means grounding!”

“If you do not start doing more extra-curriculars you will have no choices when you want to go to college!”

These are all typical parent-teen threats. More specifically, they are ‘negative threats.’ A negative threat is when a person warns against a negative outcome or consequence. An interesting study done by Carol Dweck in Mindset: The New Psychology of Success, shows that we have another option; Dweck encourages parents to be positive focused. I call this using positive threats. A positive threat is when a person mentions the positive outcome of doing the behavior. This sounds something like this:

“If you pick up the dirty clothes, you are going to get all of your allowance this week!”

“If you finish your homework, you are going to have an awesome report card and you know that means a fun winter break!”

“If you start doing more extra-curriculars you will have tons of great choices when you want to go to college!”

Yes, I intuitively knew that this was the case, but Dweck actually proved it with numbers! When working with kids and parents she found that when we want to regulate behavior we are much better off focusing on reaching goals, than preventing bad outcomes. This also helps your kids be more optimistic in outlook and motivation.

This is part of our Science of Family series. If you would like to read more articles on the scientific research and studies behind relationships, families and teens, please visit our Science of Families page for tips and updated research.

Resources:

Dweck, Carol. Mindset: The New Psychology of Success. Random House, 2006.

2 Responses to “Unique Parenting Tip: Why You Should Use Positive Threats”

  1. Chelsea
    January 5, 2011 at 7:58 am #

    Makes sense. Positive vs. negative speak is taken in by teenagers (well, everyone) and rephrasing things as suggested can make a difference.

  2. Valerie
    January 7, 2011 at 10:29 am #

    Why didn’t I think of this? LOL. Oh, I know why. Because when you open your mouth to say these things to your teen you’re already frustrated, annoyed and stressed out. Great idea, but one that would really take a thoughtful approach. I’ll try and take a little breather next time I see a pile of clothes on the floor of my sons room and see if it works!

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