It’s children that hold all the cards when it comes to misbehaving

Ellen's children: winners in the game of who blinks first?" it seems. Picture: Ellen Widdup

Ellen's children: winners in the game of who blinks first?" it seems. Picture: Ellen Widdup - Credit: Archant

There are many vocations that require people to work closely with their natural opponents. Police negotiator, prison guard, lion tamer, parent – just to name a few. All deploy a range of tactics to help them control their foe: from speaking softly, approaching cautiously and cajoling, right through to reprimand, retribution and rebuke.

But just as the criminal can taste freedom, the prisoner can manipulate a weakness and the lion can smell fear, a child will push your buttons if you are not prepared to act.

Now, I am a huge advocate of bribery. I'm just not really one for threats.

Don't get me wrong, I issue enough. I just never see them through. 'If you ask to watch TV one more time, I'm throwing it out the window.'

You won't, though, will you?

You're halfway through House of Cards on Netflix, for starters.

Besides which, you live in a nice community, and chucking things out the window would result in extreme social snubbing from the neighbours.

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'Either you get dressed right now or I am taking you to school naked.'

Cue eye-rolling from my children.

And they are right, of course.

Sending your kid into the playground without clothes is a red flag to social services.

'Don't come running to me if you fall and break your leg.'


They couldn't, even if they wanted to.

'If you don't finish that food I'm going to send it to a child in Africa.'

My mother was fond of this one.

The alternative is, 'you will sit there until you eat your sprouts.'

But this is a test of wills.

You don't really want your kid still sitting at the table when you crack open the Sauvignon Blanc, do you?

And he or she will be even less likely to eat the vegetable once it's stone cold and been in the gravy for four hours. So who will back down first?

'If you don't brush your teeth, they'll turn black and fall out in the night.'

Well, that's only true if you use meth.

'If you don't do x, y or z, I'm cancelling the party.'

What? And lose my £100 deposit?

'Stop picking your nose or I won't read you a bedtime story.'

Fast forward 10 years and your kid will be explaining to their teacher why they haven't read The Grapes of Wrath.

'Sorry Miss. My mum banned me from all works of fiction at the age of six.'

I plan to issue an increasingly ridiculous acceleration of threats until I take away the possibility of having a pet elephant.

My husband is a much smarter disciplinarian.

He finds ways to issue threats he actually hopes to follow through.

'Finish your food or Nemo goes out the window and you can all watch the NFL with me after supper.'

He has laden their plates with veg.

Not even the Green Giant could manage that much sweetcorn.

'There's two options for lunch - pasta,' he says.

'That's not two options,' whine my kids, who are sick of Bolognese.

'You can eat it or not eat it,' he replies.

'That's the options. But make the wrong choice and you will be hungry all day.'

He will gleefully refuse them pudding and eat it himself. He will send them to bed early so he can crack on with Sky Sports.

He once turfed them out the car 100 metres from home because he couldn't stand the backseat argument.

'I'm trying to hear the football results,' he told me by way of explanation, turning up the radio.

Of course, I know empty threats are pointless.

My parents used them all the time.

Nobody gave me away, my eyes are not square and the wind changed many times when I was pulling faces and I'm not struck with a permanent gurn.

Clearly I am not the only one who's a wimp when it comes to doling out punishments

But I admit my options are limited.

I think I have to face facts and resort to an old classic.

'Just wait until your father gets home' is probably the best I've got.