Why despite our best intentions is it so hard for us to be consistent with our kids? Is it really so important? And how do we go about building that parenting muscle?
It is hard to be a consistent parent because parenting is a long haul. Parenting is not a project where you put a due date on the calendar and make a big shove to get it done by that date. It is day after day, thousands of interactions over time. And unlike other areas of our life which require constant maintenance, children are a moving target (ever more sophisticated in finding ways to thwart us!). Worst of all, with kids, when you lose momentum and go back on your word, you often go all the way back to zero. This is not like your diet and exercise plan—get off track with those and you still have the credit of having kept it up for however long you did. When you do not follow through with a child, you have broken trust. How long does it take to rebuild trust? I don’t know. It depends on the child. But one thing I do know is that you cannot talk your child into trusting you again; only by following through absolutely for a long period of time will you build that trust again.
Building trust through being consistent sounds like a lot of work. Is it even worth it? I think so, because the payoffs are pretty great. Being consistent gives a child a sense of security. She is busy trying to make sense of her world, and patterns are reassuring. Once she thinks she knows how something works, she can leave it and go explore something else. You are the most important person in her life. If most of her energy goes into figuring you out, that is less energy for other learning. If she can rely on you 100%, she experiences less fear and anxiety. This gives her confidence to master her own world—to approach a new friend, to climb to the top of the play structure or to learn a new game. Consistency also helps a child learn self-regulation. If you say no to the cookie before dinner and add that if she continues to ask there will be none after dinner—and you stick to it—she learns that through controlling her behavior, she can exert some control over her situation. (Learning this self control is very hard work for your child. Know that you can offer lots of sympathy for the struggle without giving in to the cookie.)
So, you have decided that consistency is important and warrants the time and energy it will take. What’s the first step in building the consistency muscle?
Building Consistency: Tip One: Build in Secret
Here is a great trick. Remember I said that by not following through with negative consequences, you too often slide back to zero? Deposits put in the Positive Recognition Bank, on the other hand, stay there, even if you forget to put in a deposit the next day. Cool, right? That means you can begin to build your consistency muscle in stealth mode. Let’s say that you decide that your first goal for yourself is to consistently praise your children for their efforts—their efforts to clean up, to be kind, to turn away from electronics. You quietly begin to drop compliments. Let’s say, you do super well for three days. The fourth day you are tired and stressed and forget your efforts. Not a problem. Having not promised anything, you are not breaking any trust. You get to start again tomorrow with no one the wiser.
So, I challenge you. Before you leap to add teeth to the rules in your house, build up the consistency biceps by committing 100% to catching your kids doing good.
By next week you'll be ready for Building Consistency: Tip Two: Build the Positive!