In my distraction, I carelessly tossed out a threat: "If such-and-such isn't done immediately, you won't get a bedtime story." Immediately I chastised myself. I'd just come up with a completely arbitrary punishment despite recognizing the many pitfalls of using punishment (or praise) to control behaviour. Mistake #2.
He paused, considered for a few seconds, and then said, "okay. I won't have a bedtime story. Okay?" And he started walking off to play.
I walked right into that one. I'd said it myself:
Finally, the child will come to consider whether the negative behaviour is “worth” the punishment. Is sneaking this candy “worth” the spank I will get? Is taunting my little sister “worth” being sent to my room for a while? And then what recourse does the parent have left when a punishment is no longer effective? Harder spankings? Longer groundings? More loss of privilege? There’s only so much you can do once the child has learned to weigh the negative behaviour against the likely punishment – and then the behaviour spirals out of control.
He had considered my threat and determined that the loss of his bedtime story was worth avoiding whatever it was I'd asked him to do.
Lesson unequivocally driven home, I gave myself a mental shake and turned my full attention to the situation, as I should have done in the first place instead of absentmindedly and repeatedly tossing out my request to a distracted three year old. I called him back to the table, apologized for making a foolish threat, and reinforced that no, my request wasn't optional. I restated my request in a proper manner (firm and clear), using eye contact and physical touch (my hand on his shoulder) to ensure I had his full attention. He immediately and cheerfully completed the task I'd asked him to do, and we both carried on with our day.
Discipline. Not punishment.