Melissa Cooke celebrates Christmas this year with, from left, Hugh, Elisabeth and William. Photo: James Brickwood
Meet the mother who cancelled Christmas.
While parents have always used Santa and Christmas as the ultimate bribe, Sydney mother of three Melissa Cooke finally acted on her threat two days before Christmas in 2011.
Her husband initially disagreed, but he came around, taking down the tree and decorations.
''I am relatively strict, but never in my wildest dreams did I think we'd follow through with cancelling Christmas,'' said Mrs Cooke, an office administrator.
The couple were pushed to the edge by two weeks of ''unbelievably bad behaviour'' by their children: William, 11 at the time, Elisabeth, then eight, and Hugh, then six.
Hyped up on sugar and parties, the children wanted the world and gave nothing. With two parents working full time, the pre-Christmas period ''was all rush, rush - here, there, everywhere''.
A series of near disasters followed.
''She [daughter Elisabeth] stole $50 from my husband at 3am,'' recalls Mrs Cooke. ''And then she left school grounds at 10am, [went to the shop] bought that amount of lollies, and … gave peanut M&Ms to a child with allergies who ended up in hospital.''
The family went ''ballistic'', but it didn't stop there. To raise money for more lollies, Elisabeth - who the family admits is a real character - dragged her younger brother to the main road to ''beg'' for money.
William, meanwhile, refused to listen and the children wouldn't go to bed and were fighting.
Frustration led both parents to tears. They began threatening to cancel Christmas, and when Mrs Cooke finally acted, the children didn't believe her - even when the tree came down.
Child psychologist Kimberley O'Brien said the family's experience rings true at this time of year.
Ms O'Brien admits threatening to take a present away if her two children, aged seven and three, didn't stop hitting each other.
She said mothers were ''pulling out all stops'' and parents were ''desperate for fresh strategies and ideas'', often turning to the threat of cancelling Christmas to give themselves more leverage.
Ms O'Brien, who works at the Quirky Kid Clinic in Sydney, said many parents complained that their children were ungrateful, demanding, spoilt and badly behaved. But she said the threat to cancel Christmas was not ideal because not many parents would act on it and it was often too far away to mean much to smaller children.
She recommended immediate small rewards for good behaviour. And if parents must make threats, make them small and realistic.
Mrs Cooke remembers that cancelled Christmas morning as one of the most dismal ever.
''Usually you're dying to get up to see them rip their presents apart. But that morning - we have creaky floorboards - we could hear them wandering around the house looking, and they were whispering, 'Do you think they're hidden? Where are they? I can't see them.'''
The couple remained steadfast.
Two days after Christmas, the Cookes went on a 5000-kilometre outback camping trip, during which they talked about how much fun it was being together.
''I wanted to turn around and say you've been champions and you can open your presents now.'' And on January 15, the family did that.
''It was never an easy decision,'' said Mrs Cooke. ''But I'm glad I did. It had the desired effect.''