When it comes to parenting, you've probably heard about the importance of setting limits. Kids thrive with structure and routine, even if they don't always seem to like it. Here's how you can be more consistent with your children, no matter their age or the circumstance.
What Does Consistency in Parenting Actually Mean?
At its core, consistency refers to engaging with your children in familiar and predictable patterns. Kids with consistent and conscious parents know what to expect at home. Even though there is inherent room for flexibility, they understand their limits. They also tend to know how their parents will behave at a given time.
Keep in mind that being consistent is necessarily a natural skill. It takes intention and practice to engage with your family predictably.
How Does Consistency Help Your Children?
Consistency isn't just important for kids. As adults, we prefer it as well. For example, would you rather work for a boss who's clear about their expectations? Or would you rather work for someone who frequently changes their mind and alternates between being upset, angry, and totally calm?
Growing up is stressful. Young children, in particular, absorb new things about the world every moment. It's as exciting as it is confusing, so they naturally turn to their parents for support.
Consistency conveys a sense of safety. Kids feel anxious when they don't know what to expect (just like adults). So, if they can generally anticipate how you will react in most situations, it builds their assurance (and their confidence).
What Makes Consistency So Challenging?
If you have kids, we don't need to tell you that parenting is difficult. All parents know that. Every day can bring new challenges, tantrums, and disconnected moments.
In addition, kids tend to feel safest at home, meaning they're most likely to exhibit their "worst" behaviors with their parents. This phenomenon often compounds more stress. When you're just trying to avoid another meltdown, it's easy to want to give in to your child's demands.
Sometimes, there are practical issues to consider. For example, let's say you need to make it to an appointment on time, you might find yourself bribing your child with a treat to get them into the car. The next day, they ask for the same treat when you need to go somewhere. You say no, as you don't want to make it a daily habit.
All parents are human, and there is no "perfect way" to practice consistency. In fact, being so rigid that you don't allow for any spontaneity or flexibility creates other problems. But, it's still important to strive to be predictable, especially if you feel that the boundaries in your home seem shaky.
How to Practice Being More Consistent
Consistency requires effort, but you can take manageable steps to improve your response to your children. Here are some tips:
Get Other Caregivers On Board
Consistency is essential between parents, but it also matters with grandparents, nannies, teachers, and babysitters. Of course, nobody will do things exactly the way you do them. But everyone should be united in trying to support your child's growth.
The best way to do this is by maintaining open communication with everyone. Let them know your general home rules and be clear about your hard limits. For example, if bedtime is always at 7:30 pm, emphasize that you expect that time to be respected. It's also helpful to explain why you have that rule (i.e., your child has struggled with getting too tired in the day, or they need to wake up early for school, and you want to ensure they get enough sleep).
Be Explicit in How You Will Respond to Unwanted Behavior
It's important to outline how you will react if your child does something they shouldn't. These consequences will set the stage for predictable responses. Kids thrive when they see the full cause and effect.
That said, don't assume that this knowledge means your child will automatically respect your limits. If anything, they sometimes become more defiant once limits are in place. This is especially true if you've been inconsistent in the past. They will actively test your ability to maintain boundaries.
Choose Either Logical or Natural Punishments (Or Both)
Consequences should be age-appropriate and relevant to the specific situation. Healthy consequences can be either logical or natural.
Logical consequences are not punitive. They simply show a child that choosing an unwanted behavior may come with some undesirable side effects. For example, if your toddler throws her food after serving her dinner, a logical consequence would be ending the meal. She will likely protest, but if you stay consistent with this consequence, she will learn that throwing her food means she can't eat anymore.
Natural consequences happen as a result of the child's direct behavior. If your toddler throws her food after serving her dinner, a natural consequence would be the dog running over to eat some of her food. She may become distraught, but she will eventually learn that the dog will try to eat her food if she makes it accessible.
You can outweigh various logical and natural consequences throughout childhood and even early adulthood. For example, if your young adult is irresponsible with his money and runs out of cash before his next paycheck, a natural consequence is having no money. A logical consequence is you not giving him any money during that time.
Stay Calm as Often as Possible
Even though it may feel challenging in the heat of the moment, try your best to stay level-headed and disengage from the power struggle. Losing your cool only escalates a situation, and kids feed off your emotions.
If you do yell or act out, apologize immediately. You aren't a bad parent, but you should model holding yourself accountable for making mistakes.
Choose Positive Reinforcement
Just as it's important to be consistent with setting limits for negative behavior, you also want to emphasize praising and rewarding your child when things go well! Children need validation, and they want your approval.
How We Can Help
At The Resurface Group, we understand the nuances of family dynamics. We recognize that parenting is hard- really hard! We also recognize that you want to do a good job!
We're here to help reunite families. We want you to feel supported by one another, and we strive to facilitate that connection. Contact us today to learn more!