Parenting is exhausting and frustrating. Most parents are just trying to make it to the end of the day. In many homes, expediency takes precedence over consistency. You may get very frustrated that your child won't clean his room, but after asking multiple times, you get fed up and do it yourself. We are all human and will make mistakes, but making an effort to be consistent is vital to raising confident, secure children. Choosing to get things done faster over being consistent has an effect on your child’s behavior and character. Being consistent is time-consuming and requires thought and patience, but it is an investment in your child's development and will make your relationship stronger as your child gets older.
Consistency helps kids
For children, the learning process involves internalizing, rehearsing, and repeating. Just like learning 2+2=4, kids need to internalize, rehearse and repeat behaviors. Emotionally, consistency means purposely choosing how you will engage with or respond to your child. It means being mindful about your choices and not changing them based on your moods. When parents are consistent in their reactions and consequences to their child’s behaviors, children grow up knowing what to expect.
At an early age your child will be able to predict how you will react in specific situations, such as when he or she throws food on the floor, hits the dog or does a silly dance. This of course does not mean that your children won’t push the boundaries to see if your reaction changes. But, after time, your child will come to feel safe within the consistency of your responses. Choosing to consistently not yell and calm yourself down before you respond to your child is one of the best gifts you can give any kid.
Consistency in terms of structure and routine provides a confirming and safe way for children to organize and integrate information into their brain and gain an understanding of how the world works. Children understand the world through repetition and consistency. When kids are able to predict how their morning will go, they feel more secure and in turn, make better choices.
The harm of inconsistent parenting
Inconsistency can be very confusing for children. If one day dad yells to his son for hitting his sister but the next day he tolerates it, his son may become confused about the limits. He will also come to learn that dad’s responses are not predictable.
Lack of parental consistency can cause several characteristics to develop in children, including aggression and hostility, or complacency and passivity. As the child learns to deal with unpredictability, anxiety is produced depending on the level of inconsistency. Children who have to learn to cope with anxiety at a young age will not learn appropriate problem solving skills. Lack of consistency can overwhelm their defenses, and cause them to solve problems with undesired or inappropriate behavior.
Consistency and different caregivers
Consistency is important not only between parents, but between caregivers, including grandparents, babysitters, nannies, and teachers. All of your child’s caregivers should be working together to help the child integrate information into their schema, using simple and concrete ideas. To make this happen, there should be open communication between caregivers so everyone understands the message and is on the same page with rules. For example, decide on some simple and concrete house rules and enforce them in a similar way to how rules are enforced in school. Make sure that your simple and concrete rules are realistic and age appropriate.
Many children are better behaved in school because of the consistency and rules. In school, when there is a rule, every student must adhere to it and there are no exceptions. This predictability helps children feel secure.
Consistently address difficult behaviors
Difficult behavior is developmentally normal and age-appropriate for children of all ages. These behaviors are especially normal during when children are young and starting to integrate stimuli from their environment into their schema, and develop a world view. Children test limits in order to figure out their world. If you are trying to change an undesirable behavior, consistency is the way to do it. It may take a long time, but if you are consistent with your new rules and ideas, your children will integrate these new, desirable ideas into their brain.
Consistency is important in how you emotionally react when your child does something which you don't like and also what reaction or consequence you use to teach that the behavior is the undesirable. Consequences should fit the behavior, and your tone and demeanor should match the severity of the behavior. If a child is acting out, the behavior needs to be addressed with a logical and related consequence, not something days later or for an extended time period where the child forgets what happened in the first place.
Maintain a consistent routine
One of the most important things you can do for family is to have a familiar schedule where each family members knows their expectations. As a parent, it is your job to teach your children what your expectations are of them. As most parents know, a tough night or morning can throw a wrench into your whole day. Many people have bedtime routines that began when their children were very young. But those routines can get derailed very quickly by kids asking for water, a snack, or any other creative thing they can think of to make bedtime not come so quickly.
In order to keep your routines going, make sure everyone in the family knows what is expected of them. Depending on your kids ages, have them get themselves dressed or brush their teeth on their own. When kids know their responsibilities, they feel empowered and are more likely to respond positively to the task. Establish a routine and do your best to stick to it. If there is a major change to the routine, share it with your child so they can mentally prepare and not be anxious or surprised by the change. Most importantly, don't let your child hijack the routine. Being calm and consistent reminds your child that you are a safe person to go to when life feels chaotic to them.
Changes to the routine
It is inevitable that plans will change and routines will get interrupted. It is a part of life. The important thing is that you share those changes with your child in a clear, age-appropriate way. We unfairly expect kids to do as we say, but many times, we don't provide them enough information or any explanation. We expect them to be flexible and respond easily to life changes but we rarely give them the tools to cope with such changes. Include your child in a conversation about changes and allow them to ask questions. Every family and situation are different, but open communication will help you foster a positive relationship.
Consistent parenting takes time and energy. None of us can be consistent all the time, and sometimes it is just as important to be able to be flexible and go with the flow. Making the choice when to be consistent and when to be flexible is where your parenting power lies. Being mindful of those purposeful decisions are what will make you a better parents and will help your child develop into a confident and secure adult.