Let's review the first three steps to becoming a more consistent parent:
1. Find the Positive: Start noticing your kids and pointing out behavior you are liking.
2. Follow Through on Your Promises: Teach your kids your word is good.
3. Pick Your Battles: Being consistent is hard, so stick to the values you really care about.
So far, everything you have done to build your consistency muscle has been in stealth mode--your kids haven't known that you've been doing all this hard work. Now is when it get's real, when you are going to set an expectation and then hold the limit. This will probably mean that you need to have a consequence ready--one that you can absolutely follow through on.
The hardest part of following through with children when you it is something is knowing in the moment what your next step is going to be. Let’s say you and your partner have come to agreement that a particular expectation is important to you. Perhaps you really want family members to speak respectfully to each other. You are committed to calling your children on it every time. So, the first time one child puts his sibling down, what are you going to do about it?
The exact next step is not so important as long as you both agree on the step, and as a general rule the reaction needs to get a little stronger each time. When thinking about consequences, it has to be something you are willing to carry out, or there is no point in putting it on the list. Go do half an hour research on line and you will find lots of strong opinions on consequences.
Here are mine: Consequences should be as light as possible to get the job done. With some children, their desire to please you is so great, it is enough to state your strong expectation that In this family we speak respectfully to each other. For another child, the threat of a consequence will be enough: The next time you speak disrespectfully, you will write a paragraph on how it feels to be disrespected. Some children will actually have to write the paragraph for the lesson to sink in. Some children will have to write the paragraph and even choose something nice they can do for their sibling, as well. With some children, they will need your help writing the paragraph. That's okay! Remember, the purpose of the consequence is not punishment. It is learning. Sitting down with you to organize a paragraph on respect is a great chance to open up the conversation about what makes, say, the relationship with a sibling hard.
Do not take it personally when one child needs more opportunities to learn the lesson. Stay calm, and have the next consequence ready when the child chooses to ignore the rule. Quite possibly the child is really trying. Encourage them to keep trying. Tell them, Next time I know you will choose to think before you speak. Tell them, don’t worry; it will get easier with practice. (Keep reminding yourself how hard it is for you to be consistent with your rules! It is likely at least as hard for your child to learn to be consistently respectful.)
Once you have stated the rule and the consequence, it is essential for you to follow through. That does not mean, however, that you cannot or should not have taken time to hear the child’s side of the story. What is he feeling? Why is he having such a hard time being respectful towards his sibling? What does he need from his sibling? How could he express his feelings and his needs in a way that is respectful? Have these conversations early and often. Again, always keep in mind, discipline is about teaching and training a way of being: It is not about punishment.
One final note: If the rule is In this family, we speak respectfully towards each other, that includes you! If you or your partner uses sarcasm or insults or a disrespectful approach with children or adults, you need to follow the same stream of consequences. If it is really hard for you to curb your language, get some help. Find a coach, see a counselor. Do whatever it takes to figure out what the block is. In the meantime, be prepared to model taking your consequence with good graces!
Okay. It is time for you to give this a try. You have the pieces all lined up. Give it a go, and then leave comment about how it went. Don't forget: This is a skill. It takes time and practice. Don't get discouraged if your kids throw you for a loop. The good news? You'll get lots of chances to practice!
More questions? Feel free to contact me directly for a Complementary Strategy Session.
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