In my practice, I often see that “consistency” is one of the most misunderstood concepts in behavior management: parents and caregivers discontinuing effective strategies, implementing them seldom, or not practicing what they demand from their kids. Today, I’ll focus on this misconceptions.
Consistent parents follow the same principles and practices they expect from their children. For example, if you are teaching your child not to scream and yell, you should not scream or yell at your child (or at anybody, for that matter). If you don’t want them to lie, do not tell them that you are not home when they pick up the phone.
And do not lie to them. Tell them the truth in simple terms and do not go beyond what they ask. It is much better to say less than lying. And always fulfill your promises. Do not think that they have forgotten. You want to teach them that they can trust you.
At the same time you should be consistent when setting boundaries with your child. If your child goes beyond the limits, deal with him/her in similar ways for similar actions. A child is more likely to behave well if he or she has some idea of what to expect from you.
As children learn how limits work and what happens when they go past those limits, they will trust you to be fair. Your child is also more likely to come to you with questions or problems if he/she knows what to expect. Children need limits. Limits help build their sense of security and in turn build self-confidence.
Consistency between parents/caregivers is also crucial as your child learns about behaviors that work and behaviors that don’t work. Disagreements between parents are normal but it can be harmful and undermine the other parent’s authority in front of a child. Try discussing your differing perspectives when your child is not present, until you achieve a meeting of minds. Then, you present a united front to your child. DO NOT ARGUE IN FRONT OF YOUR CHILDREN. It gives them the wrong message by teaching them an inappropriate way of dealing with conflicts. Keep in mind that children learn more from what they see than from what we tell them.
Consistency leads to predictability, which in turn reduces anxiety and challenging behaviors, and teaches children that the world is truthful.
Daniel Adatto, Board Certified Behavior Analyst.