Consistency is the Key

“I’ve tried everything! She doesn’t fall asleep until nearly 11 o’clock at night and I have to drag her out of bed at 6 in the morning! She’s exhausted, and so am I.”

I listened to a young mom complain about how difficult it was to put her daughter to bed every single night. And then she said something that made it obvious what the problem was.

“She never has a problem when she’s at her Dad’s. She goes to bed with the other kids and never gives them a hard time. I’ve tried everything I can think of and nothing works!”

Parenting with Consistency

Ah ha. It was crystal clear to me what the problem was but this tired, single Mom couldn’t see it herself. She thought that by giving her daughter plenty of leeway and not reinforcing the latest parenting method she was trying out, her daughter would cooperate with her and not get upset.

However, the exact opposite was happening. This young mom’s permissive ways were creating an unstable, insecure environment. The daughter didn’t know or care about her Mom’s rules because her Mom kept changing them because they weren’t consistently enforced!

There were no predictable rules – or consequences – just a frustrated Mom. On the other hand, she knew exactly what would happen if she didn’t go to bed at 8 pm when she was at her dad’s.

Consistency = Predictability

Consistency is having the same rules with the same rewards and the same consequences every single day of the year.

Kids need predictability. With consistency comes predictability. And with predictability comes the feeling of safety, security, and yes, even freedom. Children feel loved and good behaviour is easier to attain because they know exactly what to do to be rewarded.

Without predictability, kids have trouble problem solving. If A + B doesn’t always equal C, then how will you ever know what C is?

This is the kind of conversation inside a kids head in an inconsistent environment.

“If I don’t clean my room when Mom says to, she may or may not yell at me. I may or may not get to go to my friends. She’ll probably clean up my room for me, even though she says I need to do it. I don’t know, I guess I’ll just leave it and see what happens.”

Whereas when there is consistency, it might sound more like this

‘If I don’t clean my room I will not be able to go out and play with Betty. And mum will be mad. I better clean the room cause I really want to go play with Betty.’

Inconsistency is Easy but Frustrating

Inconsistent parenting is the easy way out.

We don’t always feel like reinforcing the rules. I know that feeling all too well. Often we’re too tired to deal with our children’s temper tantrums or arguments and sometimes it’s just faster to do it ourselves, like cleaning their room and get it over and done with.

But inconsistency in your parenting will lead to frustration for both you and your kids. Your kids will get confused and it’s common for them to turn to aggression and inappropriate behaviours to solve their problems. Consistency can and will solve anger problems in children when they know exactly what to expect.

Inconsistency can also lead to anxiety in children. When children aren’t clear on the rules and consequences, they no longer know what’s important and this ambiguity can stress them out. Consistency creates peacefulness in children because children aren’t worrying about what’s right or wrong today, or if what they did made Mom or Dad mad or not.

Or they may begin to wonder if anything is important anymore! Could you blame them for just giving up and not trying to meet your expectations? Especially when the expectations keep on changing like the patterns of clouds in the sky.

How to Be More Consistent

If you want to build a more consistent home for your child, good for you! You want your child to feel the peace and stability that comes from knowing exactly what is expected of them. However, being consistent is harder for some parents than for others. We want to please our children, not make them mad and it’s easy to give in instead of enforcing our own rules.

Begin by deciding on simple, realistic guidelines you want to enforce.

Remember parenting tool #15, defining your principles? Start there! Write them down. Include appropriate rewards and consequences. Review your list frequently to remind yourself of what you’re working towards as well as questioning what needs to change.

Recipe for Tool #23:

Ingredients:

  • a child, possibly confused and frustrated by a lack of consistency,
  • a parent wanting to create a safe, predictable environment for their child and the willingness to commit themselves to being consistent even when it’s tough.

Step 1 – Set Your Terms

Clearly define your terms with the help of your parenting partner. Make sure your standards are realistic for both your child and your ability to enforce them. Review your expectations regularly.

Step 2 – Reinforce…Consistently

Even though consistency takes time, stick with it. Every morning, wake up and review your list. Commit to being the calm reinforcer in your child’s life. Remind yourself why you’re doing this. Stick to your principles and consistently enforce the consequences, day after day after day.

Step 3 – Don’t Give Up

You’re going to get tired. You’re going to get exhausted. Your children are going to argue and throw temper tantrums.

Even if it’s faster to do it yourself, step back and let your child do what they’re supposed to do. This might get harder before it gets easier but remind yourself that your child’s security and your sanity are at stake.

If there is a secret to consistency, it is the dedication of you the parent to stick with being consistent. It’s worth it. If you remain consistent in reinforcing the rules important to you, your child will begin to internalize your rules and values. They will learn to make responsible decisions. They will learn to solve problems on their own.

And, given some time, you and your child will end up arguing less over the issues you used to argue about.

HB

HB is a roller coaster father, one minute he is ecstatic about his children, the next he wonders if life will ever get any better. A long standing member of the 'I yell at my kids' club, he writes with passion and an analytical mind. Dissecting and separating the nuanced strategies that make a good parent great. He experiments with parenting techniques on his 3 year old so you don't have to.

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