Why is Consistency Important?
"Ouch!" I yelled as I tripped over my three-year-old daughter's doll stroller. As I glared at the offending toy, I called, "Julia, you need to come get this stroller and take it into your room." I waited a moment. Nothing. I could hear her playing in her room, so I was sure she'd heard me. I sighed and called again. "Julia, I just tripped over your doll stroller. You need to come and pick it up or I'm going to take it and you won't get it back until tomorrow." Her eyes wide, she darted out of her room and quickly pushed the stroller into her bedroom. "Sorry, Mommy," she said.
Why did she do as I asked promptly and without argument? Because she knew that I meant what I said. I warned her that I was about to take away one of her favorite toys, and she knew that I would follow through. She knew because I had done it before.
Dr. Sal Severe, PhD, author of How to Behave So Your Preschooler Will, Too!, says, "You want to build a reputation with your kids that when you say something, you mean it." In other words, be consistent with your discipline.
Why is consistency so important to young children? "Consistency is the glue that sticks together for kids. It teaches them that their behavior has an outcome," says Dr. Severe. They learn the cause and effect relationship: When I act like this, this is what happens. Good or bad, my behavior produces a result.
But when discipline is inconsistent, children do not learn about cause and effect because the effect of their behavior keeps changing. "Inconsistency teaches children to take chances. They think, 'Maybe I'll get away with it this time,'" explains Dr. Severe. When kids do not know what to expect from their parents, it's almost a guarantee that they will test the limits every chance they get.
Many parents use the words "discipline" and "punishment" almost interchangeably. Dr. Severe says that the two are very different. "Discipline is everything we do to teach kids to think for themselves and to make good choices," he says. "Punishment is only one small part of discipline. Punishment lets the child know that they made a bad choice."
"Discipline should focus on the connection between what the child did and how they should feel about their behavior," says Dr. Severe. When your child behaves well, you should say something like, "You shared your toys with your brother. That was so nice of you. You should feel very proud of yourself!" When your child does something wrong, say, "I'm sorry you hit your sister. We use nice touches in our house. Now you have to go to time-out. I hope you'll make a different choice next time."
Dr. Severe says, "Consistency is the foundation of good discipline. It is part of everything we do with kids." So how do we ensure that we are disciplining consistently? Follow these tips from Dr. Severe.