One of the greatest problems in the arena of discipline comes from inconsistency. There are many parents who will not discipline their children and that creates a huge problem. There are also many parents who go way over the top with their discipline and that also creates a problem. However, there are also parents who are incredibly inconsistent with their discipline and that, in my opinion, might be the worst of all.
If there is one thing that I have learned from working in group homes over the last seven years, it is that children need consistency. This idea is the same in all areas of the child’s development but especially in regards to discipline. Your child will condition itself to follow whatever rules you put in place. When those rules are only sporadically enforced, it can create much confusion in your child.
On top of that, your child will begin to see the holes in your armor. They will figure out what they can and cannot get away with. They will discover when you are more likely to be less authoritative and strict with the rules. Do you have a tendency to be less strict when you are worn out? You better believe that they will start pushing their boundaries when you are tired.
You must be consistent with your rules and boundaries. If it is not okay for your child to get into the cookie jar on one day, then you cannot make it okay to do it later. I know that is a weak example but you get the point. If you make a rule, it needs to be enforced the same way every day. That is how children learn.
You must also be on the same page with your spouse about the rules. This is probably a bigger issue than what we have discussed to this point. Children will attempt to play their parents against each other. My five-year-old son does this all the time. If he gets a no from me, he goes to his mom and vice-versa. Married couples, you have to enforce the same set of rules. Sit down ahead of time and agree on what you want to be enforced in your home and then stand by each other.
So, you don’t want to be that overly authoritative parent? Fine. However, you also don’t want to be extremely permissive, after all, your kid needs a parent, not a friend. That’s great too. It’s okay to exist somewhere in between these two extremes. The important thing is to not swing back and forth. That is what it means to be a consistent parent.
Dr. Kevin Leman tells us that, “when a parent doesn’t discipline a child, that parent invites rebellion. In essence, he is giving the child a license to hold his parents in contempt. Children can actually develop hatred toward their parents if the parents don’t take a stand and discipline them.” (Making Children Mind Without Losing Yours, 45)
While this is true, I would add that the discipline had to remain consistent. A rule that doesn’t stand the test of time with your child really isn’t a rule at all.
Here’s the deal. Someday soon, you will wake up and your child will be grown. It really happens that fast. However, raise them right. Spend time with your kids. Go out and play. Have fun. Also, set boundaries. Make rules. And, whatever you do, enforce them.