Consequences must be consistent. Consequences should be applied not based on your moods, biorhythms, or whether the Sox won the game. Consistency means sameness—the same rules and consequences over time.
But consistency is more than consequences, and it’s larger than limits and rules. Consistency is a general parenting technique and one of the main definitions of discipline. Consistency is part of the structure of your child’s life. It’s the reliability of a weekly schedule, a set bedtime, a ritual birthday breakfast, and traditional holidays. It almost doesn’t matter what the routine is—consistency gives your entire family something to rely on and lean against. If you promise a special treat, a consequence, a vacation, or special time together, then do it. Don’t promise it unless you’re going to deliver. Maintain that trust.
Inevitability, Not Severity
In some families, the most severe consequence ever handed down is, “That’s it, I’m not telling you a story before bed tonight.” That’s fine—it’s not the severity of the consequence that matters, it’s the fact that certain kinds of behavior are not acceptable, and if that behavior happens, that consequence will occur. Kids get the message and learn from it when consequences are inevitable for certain behaviors.
- Don’t set a rule, limit, or consequence unless you’re going to be consistent in enforcing it.
- Choose your position, and stick to it. Whining should make you firmer than ever.
- You can be nice, loving, and consistent at the same time. Consistency doesn’t equal rigidity or cruelty. It’s a support system.
- Being consistent is in your own best interests, too. If they know you can be pushed around, you will be.
Stick to your decisions, stand confident in your responses, and your kids will respect and trust you for your fortitude and your consistency. They are relying on you to be firm—they don’t yet know how to be. Remember that children need solid, firm consistency.
Consistency with your children is a form of structure. Your kids are relying on you to provide solidity and structure, to be consistent in an inconsistent world. You’re being firm for their sake.
Faulty Consequences and Flexibility
Sometimes you’ve got to change your mind. There are those who believe that once you’ve made a stand and established a rule, limit, or consequence, you’ve gotta stick to it or you lose all credibility. I say that there’s a difference between throwing out idle threats and never following through on promises or consequences, and occasionally changing your mind, or realizing you’ve made a mistake and rectifying it. Sometimes a rule, limit, or consequence isn’t right or simply doesn’t work. These are the times to be flexible. Part of being flexible is realizing you’ve erred and being willing to change. (Sometimes the act of confessing you’ve made a mistake opens a great dialogue with your child, and accomplishes exactly what the faulty limit or consequence did not!)
Be consistent, but make sure your consistency is not “a foolish consistency.” Keep thinking. Be willing to change when you are wrong.