If parents understand the extent to which consistent parenting contributes to improving their child’s behaviour and helping that child be more responsible, they will practice it more.
You may not know it, but inconsistent parenting works against what you probably want most for your child – to become a better person able to lead a happy and successful life.
To help you visualize it well, imagine if your instructor keeps changing the rules of chess each time you play the game?
That kind of inconsistency would confuse, frustrate and in fact, will NEVER help you learn the tactics to become a winner.
In this article, we will show you how consistency works, as well as how you can use it to help your child develop positive parenting solutions.
Consistency Reinforces Rule-Following Behaviors In a Child
To improve a child’s behaviour, the first thing to do is to make them understand the rules and consequences, and the adult should follow through with it.
If you’re consistent in rewarding good behaviour in your child, they’ll learn that sticking to the rules equals a positive result for them. The reward may not necessarily be a material gift. It could be as simple as praising them, extra playtime or reading them more stories during storytime.
Remember, you should ONLY offer a reward for positive behaviour. That’s because if you inconsistently reward any type of behaviour, your child will take advantage of the reward system and won’t respect your rules.
Instead, they will disobey the rules until you offer them a reward.
For example, extending the playtime of your child when they keep their room organized and cleaned for a period of time is rewarding positive behaviour.
An inconsistent reward is when your child is misbehaving, like throwing a tantrum and you offer an incentive for them to stop.
The system of reward also works like a charm in helping your child learn and follow the rules of a system. In this case, even if you don’t personally reward them, show them what they will benefit by obeying the rules.
For example, make your child see how obeying the “no bullying” school rule isn’t only for the benefit of others, but they also stand to gain from it.
Before you reveal the reward, layout the rule, action required from them, then the reward. See how the whole scenario plays out:
Making the rule plain and clear: School says “No bullying”. You could go ahead and ask them what actions they think constitute bullying. You may hear things like yelling at other students, stalking those you don’t like all over the place to harass them and all that.
Also, ask them to include what bullying is on their list, ways others have bullied them and ways THEY have bullied others.
Positive action expected from them: Ask for your child’s input on this one too. Then you could add things they didn’t mention like your childshouldn’t bully others, neither should they talk their friends into being a bully.
Also, if they witness a bullying scene in school, they should try to talk to the perpetrator to stop gently. They should explain how it makes the victim feel bad, which could result in the victim hurting themselves.
If the bully doesn’t stop or redirects aggression towards your kid, your child should leave the scene immediately and report to the school authority. They should also let you know at home so you could follow up on the incident with the school authority.
Your kid’s reward: They get the inner satisfaction that they help make the school environment a happy place for another child.
You know best – what kind of material or non-material bribe motivates your child – so use that in this “rewarding positive habits and behaviour system”.
Consistency Teaches Children Cause and Effect in Relationships
This strategy is about using consistency to help your child learn cause and effect.
Similar to offering bribes for positive behaviour, not consistently showing children, consequences when they disobey the rules teaches them they can sometimes get away with disobedience.
To stop certain behaviours in a child, think of a natural consequence for that behaviour you can consistently use to teach cause and effect. The purpose isn’t to cause harm, and it’s to help them understand the consequences of their actions. This is better than a non punative approach.
For instance, if your child is mean or violent during playtime, you may take away playtime for some time as the natural consequence of their behaviour.
If they refuse to share a toy, you may consider taking away that toy until they decide to share.
Using one particular punishment such as time-out, as a consequence for all types of misbehaviour does not teach cause and effect as it is not consistent with the child’s specific actions.
Instead, this inconsistency may cause your child to act out all the more since they missed out on seeing how their mistake relates to the punishment given.
Emotional Consistency Contributes To a Child Being More Honest
A parent has to learn to be emotionally consistent, so their child will not be scared of their reaction, should something terrible occur.
If you’re consistently understanding, respectful, and calm in both positive and negative situations, your child will become more honest. They will open up to you when they need help or make mistakes.
If your emotional reactions are not consistent like tolerating a particular action one day. Another day you yell at the child for the same action. This unpredictability could cause anxiety in your child.
Moreover, when a child is overly anxious, they won’t open up to you as they can’t predict how you will react.
Without developing a healthy way of expressing their emotions, such children have a higher chance of exhibiting risky behaviour, the older they get.
Consistency Works Well When Other Caregivers Join In the Work
If a child realizes that some authority figures don’t punish them for certain behaviours, while others do, they will not respect the rules.
The unpleasant outcome is the child treats the rules like something that can be manipulated. Kids are smart; they know if they misbehave with some caregivers, no consistent consequence will be meted out on them.
That’s why you must explain the rules you’re training your child with to all their caregivers, like grandparents, nannies, and teachers. So everyone could consistently train your child.
Being consistent as a parent takes a massive amount of time, attention and effort, making it almost impossible to follow through every single minute of the day.
But try to keep in mind the excellent result it will yield in your child and let that spur you on when you feel like relenting.
The second thing to note is that as much as you want to practice consistency to the letter, remember:
If the best result is gotten from your child by being flexible, then be flexible.
Andy Earle is a researcher who studies parent-teen communication and adolescent risk behaviors. He is the co-founder of talkingtoteens.com, ghostwriter at WriteItGreat.com, and host of the Talking to Teens podcast, a free weekly talk show for parents of teenagers.