Your child wants ice cream at bedtime. You say “No” but your child persists, whining and bugging you until you finally give in to stop the incessant whining.
Your child doesn’t pick up her toys when asked. You end up picking the toys up for your child.
You tell your child that he’s grounded for a week. Do you stick to your guns or cave under the pressure?
Why is it so hard to be consistent in discipline?
There are obvious answers. You’re tired. You take the path of least resistance. The kids wear you down. But to really get to the bottom of this, you have to dig deeper. In order to make real, significant changes, you have to examine what holds you back in following through with reasonable discipline options. Let’s start with the words “reasonable discipline.” Did you really want to ground your child for a whole week or did you just say that out of anger? If your child did something really awful you may want to ground them for a week, but if you said it out of anger, you need to give yourself a break before you discipline your child so you don’t deal out a punishment that you won’t follow through on because it’s too harsh. Choose your words (and punishments) carefully.
Guilt. This is a big one. The majority of parents work outside the home now. Do you feel guilty when your child is in the care of others for six or eight or ten hours a day? Most parents do. Guilt can drive you to resist disciplining your child because you don’t want to play the “heavy” if you only have three or four hours a day together. You’d rather have “fun” time. My child won’t like me. Your child won’t like the action that you took. That part is true. Who likes to be punished? But you have a long, deep and endearing relationship with your child with thousands of investments you’ve made in caring for them. Stephen Covey calls this “an emotional bank account.” If you have enough goodwill stored up in the back account, occasional punishments will not empty the bank account permanently. Your child will still love you, but they will pout and stomp and be unhappy about the punishment. Try to separate the action that you’re taking from the personal attribution.
My child needs me. This one is tough. If your child is begging for one more bedtime story you believe your child NEEDS you and you want to fulfill that need. Isn’t that your job as a parent? Try to examine where your child’s need is coming from and your own need to be needed. Are there other times of day when you can connect in meaningful ways with your child? It’s also your job to ensure that your child gets adequate sleep. Weigh which need is more important to meet at that time.
It will hurt my child’s feelings. The truth is that sometimes your child’s feelings will be hurt. If you don’t let your child go to the movie with a friend because his book report isn’t done, whose fault was it? Your child procrastinated for two days. He had ample time to complete it earlier but chose to play video games instead. You outlined the consequences, but your child chose to ignore them. Should your child learn from his mistakes or should you prevent him from feeling the “pain” of actions he took?
The consequences of being inconsistent in your discipline are actually quite grave. Your child will learn that s/he cannot trust you. Your child will lose respect for you. Your child will not develop a set of boundaries that delineate between parent and child, authority figure/child. Your child will not have a firm, reliable structure to count on. Your child will feel insecure.
Your child will have a false set of empowerment. She will feel in charge, when she really needs you to be the one in charge. The child will learn that you hold them to a lower standard and in fact, that you believe they are incapable of meeting the standard that you set. They will learn that they don’t have to meet standards because standards are negotiable. They will ultimately lose respect for themselves because they are learning that they are not responsible for their own behavior. So the next time you feel like letting the consequence go, think of all the harm that can come to your child when you are inconsistent.
Then, remind yourself of all the benefits that can come from using positive discipline methods, consistently applied: Your child will feel more secure. Life will be more predictable for your child. Some crises will be avoided. Your child will learn to do things for himself. Your child will learn appropriate boundaries. Your child will learn self-care. Your child will learn that you are trustworthy, reliable and responsible. The firm structure that you build will enhance your child’s self-esteem. Nasty behaviors will subside because there are consequences.
Next time you feel like being a “discipline wimp” stop yourself. Instead, keep your eye on the prize: raising responsible, confident and capable young adults, and you’ll be more likely to set, and keep (!) firm limits.
For more great strategies on becoming the best parent you can be check out “The Ultimate Parenting Toolkit: Solutions to Your Top 10 Parenting Problems”
Article written by Toni Schutta, Parent Coach and Licensed Psychologist.