Whatever family rules you prioritize, values you want to instill or behaviors you wish to decrease, there is only one major rule that must be followed to see any change. That one golden rule is consistency.
Parenting with complete consistency does more than improve a child’s behavior. It also creates a sense of security, encourages responsibility, reduces anxiety by increasing predictability and allows children to be accountable for their own choices by controlling their own outcome.
The importance of consistency
Consistency is essentially having the same clear expectations for a certain behavior at all times, across all situations and between all major caregivers.
Dr. Fred Jones, psychologist and author, explains that when it comes to consistency, there are no in betweens. You are either consistent or you are not. There is no “sometimes” or “almost always.”
Although consistency is so important, it is one of the most common parenting pitfalls. That is because consistency is not easy. If it were, everyone would be a master at it! It requires dedication even on days when you feel exhausted, things are hectic, and you just want to make life easy and your child happy. What feels easier in the short run, however, often makes things more difficult in the long run.
The key to consistency is to say what you mean and mean what you say — always, every day. Here are common problems to consistency and how to work around them.
Disciplining before instruction
Discipline that seems arbitrary to a child is because rules and expectations are not clearly defined, established in advance and reinforced daily.
Solution: Create a few clear family rules and the consequences for breaking them. Rules should stay the same no matter who, what, when, where or why.
Emotional responses that come from parental frustration or anger are by their very nature inconsistent and unpredictable.
Solution: Respond to problem behaviors with swift, emotionally-detached warnings and consequences to avoid emotions from building up and dictating your response.
Threatening too big and not delivering.
Solution: The consequences to breaking the family rules should be realistic so you can carry them through and in proportion to the transgression.
Busy and distracted
Letting things slide when life gets hectic and you are tired or overwhelmed.
Solution: Commit to just a few family rules that do not change depending on the day, your mood, the situation or the environment.
Aiming to please
Parents don’t want to be the bad guy.
Solution: Children need a parent, not a buddy. Your child will always love you even if you make them temporarily unhappy.
Lots of talk, little action
Too much explanation or ranting can reinforce the wrong behavior by giving it attention, albeit negative attention.
Solution: Keep feedback concise, stating only the family rule, the expectation and the consequence.
Overlooking the good
Focusing on the bad behavior and treating the good as an expectation with little fanfare.
Solution: Give lavish praise when a child is exhibiting positive behavior.
No means yes
Caving in after you have said "no."
Solution: This can easily undermine all of your hard work. If you are not sure you can hold true to your “No,” try saying “Maybe” or “We’ll see” instead. Then if you crack, at least you didn’t deflate the power of your “No.”
Each parent says and does something different.
Solution: Make sure all caregiving adults are on board with the rules, even if it means some compromising.