You’ve told your children there is going to be ramifications for the behaviour they displayed in public and now you’re home and it’s time to implement those promises but as I said, you’re tired, even exhausted and you do nothing.
Instead, your child is in front of you demanding a chocolate biscuit, you know there is no way they should get one but all you want to do is rest, you need some quiet time, some headspace and you’ve lost all that earlier impetus for a fight. So you give in. Your child has stopped demanding and for a brief moment there is peace in the house and you can finally rest; but you’ve lost.
Recent research shows that this type of inconsistent parenting can, in fact, be damaging your child’s sense of self-worth and even future happiness.
Setting clear boundaries
Consistent parenting is the process of setting clear rules and boundaries in a language that children can understand. The reality is, all children crave boundaries. They make them feel safe and help them to make sense of the world. In the formative years children are constantly attempting to decipher the messages they are receiving and what those messages say about the kind of person they are in the world.
Recently coming home from the beach my eldest daughter asked me could they have a treat when they got home? I had just bought them an ice cream, I knew there was no way I was going to give into their demands for more empty calories but I didn’t want the argument in the car so I said, ‘maybe’.
I knew it was a non-committal response I could deal with later. But I glimpsed my four-year-old daughter winking at her older sister and whispering ‘maybe means yes’. And she was right. As we made the journey home I started to analyse why she would think that. And why did she ask me and not my wife? I realised that I often say ‘maybe’ in my attempt to deal with something later that I don’t want to deal with in the immediate present. And my four-year-old has figured that out. Our children are always deciphering what our language and actions mean.
So we need to be more consistent in what we say and do. When a child knows the rules and consequences for breaking those rules it actually makes them feel safe. That’s not to say they won’t test the boundaries, of course they will, but they need to know that those consequences are non-negotiable.
This actually makes children feel secure and helps them to make sense of the world.
So, when they receive inconsistent messages, it makes the world unpredictable and scary and can cause confusion and create a sense of chaos in that child’s head.
Modern parenting is remarkably different than any time that has gone before. Often I have conversations in my clinical practice with young parents who are riddled with guilt because their own parents are vocally critical of how they are raising their children.
But the reality of modern parenting makes consistency more difficult to achieve; couples are meeting later in life and, in general, are having children at a later stage in their life and also both parents need to work to meet the financial demands of modern living. So parents need to give themselves a break. It’s hard, it’s always been hard but today’s world with the demands it places on couples raising children means that parents are up against it when it comes to being consistent with their parenting approaches.
However it’s not impossible and if you sit down with your partner and go through a few of the boundaries you believe your child needs, it will make everyone in the family unit more secure in their role.
Three tips to avoid being an inconsistent parent:
1. Both parents need to be saying the same thing: If one parent is more permissive than the other this will cause tensions within the family unit, as your children will play you both off each other. So you both have to be resolute on the non-negotiable boundaries you have decided on.
2. Never parent from a position of guilt: Just because you work long hours and you currently do not see your child as much as you would like, this does not mean that you overcompensate by giving into your child’s every whim when you are with them. You are diminishing your role as parent and you are doing your child a disservice.
3. You must always follow through with the consequences: Nothing is more detrimental to creating a happy structured balance in the house than acquiescing on a promised punishment. When you do this you are telling your child that you are not someone to be trusted and your word means nothing.
Inconsistency in parenting can be easily changed. It takes a conversation with your partner about the clear boundaries you want established in the house and what punishments you feel should be implemented if those boundaries are crossed.
You certainly do not want to bring in an authoritarian style of parenting but rather a reasonable and clear set of rules that your child can understand and follow. This will make family life for more rewarding for everyone.
Consistency is difficult to achieve in modern parenting