When… not If… then…

When the first coherent sentences begin tumbling forth from the lips of your toddler or other dependent,i with all of the frustrations and delights that come with this developmental phase, it can be tempting to indulge in threats.

It can feel all too natural to coax your little one into doing the Right Thing – especially when they’re in the midst of doing the Wrong Thing – with teeth-grinding injunctions such as “If you don’t clean us this mess then I swear!!” or “If you don’t get in the car right fucking now then so help me!!!” But as you’ll soon find, this If… then… approach is of limited use both in the moment and in terms of intellectual development (for all parties).

Thankfully, there’s a superior alternative.

Though practice it takes, When… is a mighty weapon to substitute for the variable and ever-diminishing potencyii of If… then…. When…, you see, never dulls its blade.iii It’s a patient explanation of causation rather than a wound-up menace. Rather than gambling, you’re guiding.

So the next time you’re tempted to threaten, give When… a try. You have less to lose than you think.

___ ___ ___

  1. Eg. new employee, girlfriend, etc.
  2. While select few adults can handle disproportionate punishments relative to the crime, young children benefit from consistency and repetition. The potency of If… then… exponentially diminishes if you’re a soft-ass “modern” parent who’s never disciplined themselves never mind anyone or anything else around them and therefore NEVER PULLS THE TRIGGER ON THEN. Toddlers aren’t totally stupid (yet). They’ll figure out your fake-ass is bluffing soon enough. Since the odds are indeed that you’re just one such delinquent parent who only bluffs and never has the nuts, you have little choice but to a) change your strategy, or b) sit back, relax, and enjoy the inevitable penetration. Tertium non datur.
  3. Although you’ll note that Hammurabi’s Code, for example, prefaces its laws with If… then… conditions, they are in fact When… conditions. They are not threats, they are laws. And not the kind of bullshit fiat “laws” you grew up under, where the enforcement is 99% in the printing on a page and 1% in the boots on the ground, but closer to the inverse of these proportions. That’s how traditional societies worked, you see. That’s how all functional societies work. That’s what working from causes looks like.

2 thoughts on “When… not If… then…

  1. Derek Grant says:

    I’m not sure I get the difference. Aren’t they both cause an effect?
    “When you break daddy’s glasses he can’t drive”
    “if you break ….. then he can’t drive”

    • Pete D. says:

      The difference is the threat, which opens up the window of possibility that you as the individual parent might not carry through, versus what might best be considered considerate advice on behalf of all adults. “If…then…” is also very adversarial. “When…” is sort of a Fates Decide And Act Through Me As Necessary. The more cosmic your rationale as a parent, the larger the scope of your child’s perception, or at least the more broadly applicable is the advice because it opens up the door for other agents of authority to act on behalf of The Fates, not just the parent per se, thus creating a greater development of superego.

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