The Need for Consistency
How many times have you asked your child to do something, such as pick up his or her room or to get ready for school, and he or she has either ignored you, or answered, “I will” or “Ok,” but nothing happened? You give it a minute, repeat your request, and again…nothing. You ask or tell them a third time. No movement. You get upset and frustrated. Anger follows. You begin yelling the request at your child. A conflict, or perhaps shouting match, begins.
Children sometimes ignore directives or requests when they are absorbed in doing something else, particularly something that they enjoy doing. They also learn to ignore rules and requests that have not been enforced consistently. Avoid empty threats and nagging.This is the stuff that power struggles are made of.
The number one rule for ensuring that your child does what he or she is asked to do is to be consistent in enforcing your rules and requests and in ensuring that your child carries them out. Consistency is the number one key for effective parenting. When a reasonable rule or request is decided upon, it is important that you calmly and firmly enforce it each and every time.
It is often helpful to give a child a countdown warning a few minutes before the behavior that you would like to see to give them enough time to transition from their previous activity. Children will often test rules to see if you will enforce the rule, or to see if they can get away with not complying. Expect testing, so that you can deal with it calmly but firmly when it arises.
It is easy to give in to a child’s requests or repeated demands (“Aw Mom, I just need to finish this game”) when we are tired, stressed, unsure of our decisions, or simply when we want to please our children. Giving in to your child, however, will make it likely that he or she will test you, procrastinate, or refuse to comply with the request or rule in the future.
When a rule or request is first established, discuss it with your child and define your expectations clearly with them. Ask your child to help you decide on a realistic consequence that will follow if he or she does not comply. Allowing your child to have input into this decision gives him or her greater sense of control over the rule, and a greater sense of investment in it.
For example, if you decide that you are going to limit your child’s time spent playing video games to one hour per day, go to your child when an hour has passed and tell him or her that their time is up. Better yet, set a timer for one hour. Ensure that your child understands that he or she must stop playing when the time is up. If the child refuses to stop playing when the timer goes off, remind him or her of the consequence if he or she continues to play. If the child continues to play, calmly but firmly enforce the consequence.
Parents find that when they present rules and requests calmly, clearly, and consistently, with fair warning, children will learn to follow them.
Rebecca Williams, MEd, LPC, NCC