As adults, it can be frustrating and confusing when people in your life have inconsistent behaviors. When you can’t rely on people to be there when you need them, show up when they say they will or follow through with a plan, you will ultimately stop believing anything they say and accepting inconsistency will become your norm.

Learning to be consistent can begin at an early age. Young children need structure, routine and consistency in order to feel safe as they navigate their world. Setting up routines and expectations for children not only help them feel secure as they move through their day, but can also significantly decrease the number of tantrums, power struggles and delay tactics that can make the job of parenting feel overwhelming and exhausting.

Being consistent during every interaction with your child is not always possible, but each time you don’t follow through with a consequence or bend the rules and allow them to watch one more show or play another video game, you’re setting a precedence that rules change, and that if they wear you down, they just might get what they want.

What does it mean to be consistent and why is it important?

 The word consistent is defined in the Merriam-Webster dictionary as being: marked by harmony, regularity, or steady continuity: free from variation or contradiction.

When you parent with consistency you establish daily routines, set clear expectations and implement appropriate consequences when expectations are not met. By providing your children with consistency, you teach your children to be accountable for their actions and behavior, building a trusting relationship between you. If you say one thing one day, and the complete opposite the next, it is hard for your child to know if you really mean what you are saying or if they can get you to change your mind.

How do I become a better parent on the consistency front?

This is a question we, as preschool educators, are asked all the time and it’s not an easy question to answer. Whether you’re the parent of a preschooler who demands their favorite snack at 6PM when you’re just about to serve dinner, or one of a high schooler who thinks he can extend his curfew “just because,” figuring out how to remain consistent, yet loving, and follow through on what you’ve set as rules is a complex road that every parent will grapple with…for many years!

Rules, expectations and consequences are key, yet realizing when it is necessary to make adjustments is just as important.

For young children, creating visual schedules that show what the steps are for their morning and bedtime routine can help set clear expectations for them and eliminate stall tactics, as you can remind them to check the schedule and see what part they are up to.  By following a visual schedule, you also can provide your child with positive feedback and encouragement each time they complete a step of the routine.

Tips when responding, reacting or dolling out a consequence:

Stay calm & take your time

If you raise your voice and scream out of frustration, you lose credibility with your child and the situation can spiral out of control. As with any type of altercation, if you can master a calm demeanor when dealing with your child, your words will go ten times farther. In the midst of a situation, it is easy to rush to a decision but try to take a moment to think about what you want to say, making sure the consequence is appropriate.

Have a set response

Be aware of patterns that occur in your home and come up with set phrases that you can draw from.  Instead of getting caught up in the battle, you will have a set phrase at the ready.

Stand firm

Your child will consistently test the boundaries and ‘push the envelope’ with you to see if there’s any wiggle room regarding the consequences. Standing firm, although it doesn’t usually feel good as a parent to do so will ultimately help your child to learn to accept limits and trust that all the rules, routines, limits and consequences ultimately keep their world organized and manageable.  Remember that none of this is easy, providing consistent discipline can be exhausting, frustrating and challenging especially for sleep deprived, parents. Hang in there, it will be worth it!

If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again

It’s easy to beat yourself up as a parent when you have the feeling that consistency may not be your strong suit. You look at other moms and dads with envy or admiration but believe it or not, they’re probably doing the same thing when you’re not looking! If you are struggling with how to apply consistency on a regular basis in your home, don’t feel bad about seeking outside help. There are parenting programs, classes, support groups and professionals out there who can help you. A psychologist who is experienced in working with children and parents can help you work towards effective solutions.

Successful parenting is not an overnight success! Consistency involves taking time to stick to the rules you’ve laid out for your child. As you navigate this crazy thing called parenting, don’t give up! Learning to be consistent will eventually allow you to reap the rewards of seeing your children learn how to internalize rules, routines and expectations both at home and when engaged in the outside world.