So far, in building the skills to become a more consistent parent, you have 1) noticed your kids being good and 2) taught them to trust your word by following through when you promised to do something with them. You'll notice that so far I haven't asked you to hold a firm limit with your child where you will have to give out a consequence if your child doesn't do what you ask him to. And it is still not time for that.
The consequence of not following through on your word--whether that is a treat or a negative consequence--is to bring you back to step one with trust you have been working so hard to build. For that reason, don’t move to following through on “no meaning no” until you are really ready for it. (If your no already means no every time, chances are your consistency muscle is already really strong). Before taking action, it is a good idea to think through your strategy. You and your partner need to sit down together and take some time to prioritize your values. Knowing your values behind what drives you crazy and what you really care about will help you to be strong in defending the rules you create. And most importantly, you need to pick your battles.
Below are some steps that will help you decide where you are going to put your disciplining energies:
1. Individually, create a list of 25+ values that you care about.
Note that by values I am not implying right or wrong. What is important for one person may not be important for another person—may even seem wrong. For example, I have a value of messy. To me, messy means creativity, a chance to explore, not having to get things right the first time. My husband has a value of order. For him, seeing a clean, neat space allows him to breathe, to think, a blank slate on which to create. I walk into a clean house and I feel stifled, like I’m in a straight jacket and cannot move. You can imagine we’ve had to do some major compromising around this. The “rule” comes down to I get to be messy while creating, but I am also really conscientious about cleaning up after myself quickly and thoroughly.
2. Circle your top five values.
Kids are not your carbon copies. They are not going to value all the things you do. Still, it is your house and you get to order things in a way that works for you to a great extent. That being said, children cannot focus on that many things at once. You are going to want to be really clear about your priorities, about which battles you want to fight because you are fighting to win.
3. Rank the top five values you circled.
If you only get to drive home one message to your children, what would it be? What is the creed you live by? What is it you most want your child to be? Being able to answer this question clearly is what will give you muscle behind your “No.” And your “yes,” too, for that matter. It is easy for us to be strong about what is really important to us.
4. Compare your list to your partner’s list.
If you are lucky, you and your partner will share some values in that top five. In any case, it is worth really having discussion around those values. Why they are important to you. What it looks like when they are being honored. Sometimes people get hung up on a particular word, but when they hear a vision, a picture of the value in play, it is actually something they can relate to.
5. From whatever common ground you have, choose one small expectation you could create around that value.
If you are new to the enforcing rules game, it is best to start small and be as concrete as possible. Perhaps you and your partner have “teamwork” as a common value, and you decide to ask each child to be responsible for clearing her plate and putting it in the dishwasher. You might need to work around some issues—the two year old might have to hand someone his plate for scraping and might need a hand on his plate while he is putting it in the dishwasher—but the expectation is so clear, you could take a picture of your child doing it and post the picture as a reminder.
Was this a struggle? Feel free to contact me directly for a BREAK THROUGH SESSION.