Consistency in Parenting
Raymond J. Corsini, Ph.D.
Senior Counselor Family Education Centers of Hawaii
From FAS Newsletter, Volume III, Number 3, 1993
All parents make mistakes. Some are minor and some are major. Some ways of operating are difficult to change and some ways are fairly easy. One of the easy ways that generally occurs readily is the issue of Consistency.
What is inconsistency and what problems does it create?
Inconsistency is behavior by parents that generates confusion in the mind of the child, makes him or her unsure of what will happen, generates insecurity, rebellion, lack of confidence, and even fear of the inconsistent parent.
While consistent poor parenting is bad, such as always neglecting or punishing children, and while good parenting is good, most problems in most families are neither consistent bad or consistent good parenting but unpredictable variations. So, the goal of parenting should be to be a good parent consistently, or as consistently as possible.
To give an example. I believe that certain behaviors of children are none of the parents’ business. And by that I mean what they eat, how much they eat, how much they sleep, when and where, and even whether or not they do their homework. Parents should, of course, encourage their children to listen to them. But for a child to listen to her parents, the child has to trust the parents. If a child has inconsistent parents who he can not trust, then the message will be heard but not believed, accepted, or acted upon. As the saying goes, communication should be on the same level, that is two people communicating not up or down but on the same line.
Say, for example, that you believe the unbelievable, that you should NEVER ask about school homework, never check homework, never call a teacher to find out whether homework was called for, never help a child (that is to do it for her) with her homework. You finally agree that a child should learn to be responsible and that the logical consequences of irresponsibility will come from the proper source, in this case the teacher, and the natural consequences will come directly to the child from poor grades or even flunking.
And so, you keep out of the way of schooling.
But say that some other mother calls you irresponsible for taking this action and now you change, or that you mother-in-law tells you to do your child’s homework or that a teacher complains to you that the child does not bring in her homework and you submit and get involved with criticisms, advice, threats and even punishment.
The change from one modality to another is upsetting. Or if a child begs for more money, something you give more than the allowance and something you don’t. Or you allow your child to stay up late sometimes and sometimes you don’t. All such variations that have no rhyme or reason for the child, are examples of inconsistency. A very common form is saying NO and then after a number of NOs on your part, you decide to give in and say YES but….and then you set some limit.
I am not advising rigidity, but rather basing your behavior and decisions on the basis of some logic, that you should share with your child. “Why?” you are asked when you refuse a request. And then you can say “Because it is now raining” or “Because I have no extra money to give you” or “Because tomorrow we have to get up early and I need my sleep.” But the reason should always be an honest one.
By your acting in a logical and loving manner, not making fast decisions just to show your power, you are teaching your child self-confidence as well as confidence in you. Always keep your word. If you say to a child, “Do that and I will break your leg” live up to your threat and face going to jail and losing the love of your child in the interest of consistency, but much better would be never to make a threat you are not willing to follow up—and if you make one, keep it. Thus, you have warned your child if he does something you will take him home. He does this, and you IN ABSOLUTE SILENCE carry out your threat and take him home—you promised some action if he acted in a certain way, you are sure that he heard you—he tested you—and you, despite the pleas of the hostess to let him stay you take him home IN ABSOLUTE SILENCE to let him ponder the issue of your consistency relative to his delinquent behavior. One or two of such behaviors will train almost all normal children. I needed about three to four of such consistent behaviors by my mother, and finally I caught on. But then, as those who know me, I am still a difficult person.