Consistency is one of the most important parenting skills we can learn. It's also one of the hardest skills to master.
Young children learn by a process called rehearsal and repetition. With language, they first learn to speak. Then we teach the ABCs before moving onto reading, spelling and writing. The English language is complex and the rules don't always make perfect sense, much as in life, but the basics must first be instilled, followed by usage rules and finishing with the odd exceptions to those rules.
Consistency is one of the hardest parenting skills to practice because, well ... real life happens.
Inconsistency arises from conflicting approaches between parents. Whether married or co-parenting, Mom and Dad must agree on at least the basics and compromise to reach common ground in parenting technique. When parents lack agreement in this area, it causes conflict between them, which negatively impacts children and may open the door to playing one parent off the other.
Keep it simple
It's important to keep rules simple with predictable consequences. When our kids were in school, if they required waking up multiple times in the morning, they went to bed 30 minutes earlier that night.
This was easy to explain and hard to argue with; if they couldn't wake up easily they needed more sleep. Consequences should be age-appropriate, with the most serious being reserved for the behaviors to be avoided most. We chose outright defiance and lying as our top two. They were given multiple chances to choose better and avoid the consequence. They knew that if they chose the behavior, every time the consequence would be the same. Because of this, our children very rarely lied to us, which gave us the opportunity discuss their choices and how to make better ones.
Another source of inconsistent parenting can be a lack of internal consistency. A parent must learn to rise above their own emotions. When we are frustrated we tend to focus on that, which may feed our sense of inadequacy as parents. This is especially true when our children are demonstrating weaknesses that we despise in ourselves. Our instinct is to follow our current mood in dealing with undesirable behaviors, which leads to lack of predictable outcomes and therefore a lack of stability and safety.
Parents should take the time to learn about themselves—their personality, strengths and weaknesses—and work on being consistent in all aspects of life, so they are able to model this to their children.
When there is a need for inconsistency, it should be discussed. Life is full of change and children will do quite well if they understand the reasons why there is change and how long this change will last. Being consistent doesn't mean being rigid. Exceptions can be made to every rule, as long as the parents have thought it through and can explain it well.
The consequences of inconsistent parenting are far-reaching. Imagine if you were taught the ABCs in order and just as you were getting them down, someone mixed up the letters. Instead of A B C D E F G you were now told that it's E D G F C A B or even worse, yelled at for reciting them the way you'd been taught to. How would that affect your ability to build on that basic rule? And if the letters continued to change places as you were taught word skills that also came and went, what would that do to your interest in learning? If success and failure cannot be predicted to a certain extent, then there is little reason to strive for success.
Consistency teaches responsibility
When a child knows that it is her job to take out the trash every time or on a rotating schedule, she will experience a sense of confidence. She knows that the family relies on her for something and that there is no point in arguing. However, if she learns that whining or complaining works sometimes, she will be more inclined to try to get out of the responsibility. Let's face It—it's easier to give into whining and take out the trash ourselves than it is to deal with the behavior. In the short run, it makes sense to let the whining win out. Over the long haul, however, consistency from day to day pays off in huge dividends: self-confidence, purpose, determination, self-control and, perhaps best of all, far less whining in the future.
Lunch & Learn: Parenting with Consistency
Noon-1 p.m., May 15
Brainerd Lakes Chamber
Speaker: Ginny Rogers
Consistency is one of the hardest parenting skills to practice. Inconsistency can arise from conflicting approaches between parents (whether married or co-parenting), a lack of internal consistency, or a parents' own emotions.
This session will highlight the importance of parenting with consistency and the impacts on children. It will also touch on consequences for behaviors, the importance of taking time to understand ourselves as parents, how to explain change to children, and how consistency teaches responsibility.
Crow Wing Energized's Mental Fitness Goal Group hosts lunch and learn presentations on relevant topics that are free and open to the public. The group asks people to bring their own lunch and an open mind.