If there is a magic word in parenting, it is consistency. Consistency is what makes all other aspects of parenting come together and produce success. Where is the value in setting a good example, quality expectations, or appropriate consequences, unless they are consistently applied?
Your child’s regular every-day behavior is a litmus test for your consistency. If your children are well-behaved on a regular basis, with just some issues here and there along the way, then you are consistent (or have delightfully easy children). If your children’s behavior is routinely frustrating to you, and you feel like you have things like expectations and consequences ironed out, then chances are that consistency is your area of weakness.
I have to interject something here. Even with consistency, certain children, particularly the strong-willed, can give you a run for your money. It will be your consistency day in and day out (and day in and day out!) that wins that war, but you’re in for a time of it. Don’t give up, you really will see the fruit of your effort in time.
The other night my husband and I were having dinner outside at a local restaurant. There was just one other family out there, Mom and Dad and three children that were about 4, 6, and 8 years old. The first time one of the children slipped up, the mother responded quickly and added that the child should respond with “yes, ma’am.” This sounded good at first, but it wasn’t long until the whole scene imploded and the whole family had to leave.
If responding with “yes, ma’am” is a thing in your family, then it’s probably habit and comes out as easily as yes or no. If it is not a thing in your family, and it is just for occasional show, then it is not going to happen except in those instances where you demand it. This is frustrating to you – why won’t she say “yes, ma’am,” and especially confusing to the child who doesn’t know when you expect it and when you don’t.
Consistency is best practiced in the home since that’s probably where you spend the most time with your children. When consistency is practiced in the home a bonus is that when you go out, those same basic habits are natural and apply wherever you go. Usually, a child is not a disaster in the grocery store if he is not one at home. (I did say usually!)
Let’s say my young child is not allowed to go outside without my permission. If he gets by with going outside without my permission – even once – he will try, try again. He got by with it once, and he knows it, so he’ll take his chances on getting by with it again. And in the meantime, he will make everyone miserable by trying to get by with something everyone knows he shouldn’t do.
This is where consistency can be magical. If a young child knows that he will never get by with it, he will stop trying! Clearly, this requires consistency!
How about something as basic as a three-year-old holding your hand while walking in a store. If that’s an expectation, and it certainly is a realistic one, then it should be just that easy. Maybe not the first time or two, but over time your consistent expectation becomes habit. A happy and peaceful habit that happens naturally. (As opposed to fighting over it every single time!)
Consistency is the difference between daily frustration on everyone’s part, and regular peace and happiness where everyone knows what to expect. Because the expectations are backed up consistently the children rest easy and excel within their boundaries.
The Bible instructs us to “bring up children in the training and instruction of the Lord.”
To train is to teach a type of behavior through practice and instruction over a period of time. I love that part: over a period of time. We don’t have to do it all in one day or even in one year. We have years of living together with our children, training them and instructing them all along the way.
There we have it, consistency. Teaching our children a type of behavior through practice and instruction over a period of time. Don’t expect your children to behave at a restaurant – or anywhere else – without your consistent training over a period of time.