“Why does my child listen to you and not to me,” I was recently asked. Lack of consistency immediately comes to mind. A parent absolutely must stick by what they say…EVERY TIME. Yes, I now it’s a pain in the ass. Yes, I know it gets tiring being the “bad guy” all of the time. But if you want a child to behave you simply must stick to your guns.
There are few principles of parenting more important than consistency. Living in a predictable environment is comforting to children. It makes them feel secure. This is achieved when parents conform to a regular pattern of rules and routines. When children live in an inconsistent environment, where rules are enforced one day but not the next, and when bedtime is at 8:00p.m. one night and 10:00p.m. the next night, they become confused. They also act out more and are more difficult to discipline.
ARE YOU AN INCONSISTENT PARENT?
It may be something that you never thought about. Do you make rules, but after an infraction you let the kids slide by without consequences? Do you say “no” to a request, but then back down and relent to a “yes” if your children persist and whine? Do you and your spouse disagree on the rules for the children? Does one spouse say “yes” and the other say “no” to the same request from your children? Do you make threats to your children, but you never really intend to follow through? If you answered “yes” to any of these questions, there’s probably room for improvement in the consistency department. With a firm tweak here and there in your parenting practices, you’ll notice a positive change in the behavior of your children. However, if you have been inconsistent in many ways for a long time, it will take patience and time as your children test your newly defined boundaries. Hang in there!
TYPES OF CONSISTENT PARENTING
–Consistency of Rules
Explain your rules carefully and clearly to your children. Make sure they understand. Then explain the consequences for each rule. Most importantly, enforce the rules and consequences CONSISTENLY. Yes, that means each time!
–Consistency between Parents
Present a united front to your children. Spouses need to communicate with each other about rules and consequences for the children. Children always look for a kink in the armor between the parents, so make sure you agree on the rules. Children learn how to play one parent against the other, so parents should confer and agree on rules, requests, and discipline before sharing their decision with the children.
Many family events require routines: bedtime, chores, meals, bath time, and school mornings. Children love routines (predictable events). For example, a child’s bedtime may involve getting into pajamas, brushing teeth, using the toilet, story time, prayers and a bedtime song. Bedtime should be at the same time each evening. When routines are consistent, children respond better.
–Divorced or Separated Parents
Continuity is important to children, especially during and after a divorce. When children alternate between two residences after a divorce or separation, the transition is made easier when similar routines are maintained. It’s extremely important for divorced parents to agree on a child’s bedtime, rules and discipline, nutrition and family routines (as mentioned above). The more things that are consistent in the two homes, the better for the child. No matter how contentious the relationship of the ex-spouses, the focus and needs of the children need to receive top priority.
DISCIPLINE IN 3 EASY STEPS (an excerpt from KID TIPS, by Tom McMahon)
1. EXPLAIN YOUR RULES CLEARLY
Children need firm limits; they actually find security in having boundaries. Explain your rules clearly and in a way the child can understand. For instance, to avoid misunderstanding, I often ask my six-year old to repeat what I have explained. Of course, don’t expect too much from your toddler; she cannot comprehend the meaning of rules and limits.
Children will respond better to rules if you explain the importance and reason for the rule. Try to remember how you felt when your parent gave you the old “Because I told you so” explanation.
2. EXPLAIN THE CONSEQUENCES
If your child balks at one of your rules or requests, explain what the consequence will be for not obeying. This offers your child a choice and, at least in our house, limits the verbal arguments. For example, my wife recently asked my daughter to pick up her toys by noon the next day. If she didn’t, my wife explained, “I’ll pick them up, but you won’t see them for three days.” This gave my daughter a choice: either pick up the toys or face the consequence.
3. BE CONSISTENT
My daughter decided to test my wife by not complying with her request to pick up the toys. As promised, promptly at noon the next day, my wife boxed up the toys. My daughter, wide-eyed in disbelief, watched silently as her mother disappeared with the toys. Since then, my daughter has picked up her toys when faced with a similar decision.
This example illustrates a key concept about discipline which babies have learned by their first birthday: A rule is not a rule unless it is enforced consistently. They quickly and skillfully learn how to test their parents and how to determine which rules they must take seriously.