Why Consistency Matters
Once you've laid down your rules, do your best to stick to them. "One of the most common blunders in parenting is inconsistency," says Borba. "It sends a mixed message to the child: Sometimes she means it, sometimes she doesn't." And if you let a child get away with breaking a rule once, it's extremely difficult to go back. Denise Mussman of St. Louis learned that lesson the hard way with her 2-year-old, Camille. "She tends to get her way by screaming," Mussman says. "Yesterday, I let her have a cupcake for breakfast, so she wanted one this morning, too."
Of course, being consistent is easier said than done -- especially when it comes to the smaller, non-life-or-death issues. Templin admits there are times when it's easier to bend and let her boys watch extra TV. "If I'm trying to do something -- make dinner or talk on the phone -- and they're watching a show, I tend to overlook it. I know I shouldn't, but sometimes I'm just too tired." She always regrets the aftermath of being inconsistent, however. "Once I've let something slip, it's five times harder to get them to do what I ask the next time." But even if you've been inconsistent in the past, there's always room for improvement. When Mussman finally decided to institute a no screaming rule, she got results. "Now, if Camille is upset and won't stop, she gets a time-out in my home office. She recently started giving herself time-outs -- she gets furious, goes up and shuts the door, and comes out calm and chatty."
Even though following through can be draining, the ground rules you lay now will continue to affect your kids for years to come. "Parents don't always think about the long-range goals," says Alan Greene, MD, a pediatrician and faculty member at Stanford University School of Medicine. "You really want to teach them to make wise decisions, rather than just to obey the rules by rote. What they learn now will carry through to the teen years and beyond."
Charlotte Latvala, a mother of three, lives in Sewickley, Pennsylvania.
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