One of the simplest ways to improve a child’s behavior is to be more consistent. Consistency means as parents we follow through and do as we say we will.
Consistency also means both parents in a dual parent family get to act together and respond in similar ways when children are less than perfect. Children learn from a young age to play one parent off against the other when their standards differ, or communication is poor. Single parents need to be consistent with how they react when children behave poorly.
A consistent approach is shown through a clear set of limits and boundaries that provide kids with structure and teaches them how to behave. Studies show that families with very few boundaries or rules are more likely to have children who behave poorly around others, or don’t consider their own safety.
Creating structure and rules will allow children to know the “rules of the road” and what they need to maintain for order in the home. Here are some methods for getting there.
Establish house rules so that you can consistently respond to unacceptable behavior. A written list of rules ensures that kids are clear about what is expected of them. The list can even be generated during discussions with your children so that the home is more peaceful.
Establish structure. Kids do best when they have structure and it will make it easier to discipline consistently. Create a schedule that sets aside specific times to do certain tasks. Younger kids need consistency with nap times and mealtimes. Older kids benefit from a schedule to remind them of when to do homework, complete chores and take care of other responsibilities.
Develop a plan. It’s easier to be consistent when you have a clear plan about what negative consequences you’ll use to deal with misbehavior. Be prepared with logical consequences and time out depending on the behavior. Also, consider positive reinforcement for good behavior, such as a reward system of some kind.
Coordinate with other caregivers. When possible, establish consistent rules and consequences among caregivers and environments. If the teacher, daycare provider, and extended family are all on board, it can help change behaviors fast. For kids whose parents are divorced, it’s best when both households use similar rules and consequences.
Pay attention to your moods. Your temperament is a big factor in discipline. When you’re feeling tired or stressed, you’re likely to discipline a little differently. While some parents might have less patience for behaviors, other parents might feel too tired to address them. Pay close attention to your moods and put in the extra effort to respond to behavior problems consistently, despite how you’re feeling.
Follow through with consequences. Repeated threats can certainly make discipline inconsistent. If you find yourself repeating instructions over and over or making threats without following through, it’s likely your children have learned to tune you out. It’s essential that parents mean what they say as it builds credibility. If a child knows you mean business, he’ll listen the first time.
Expect change to take time. Behavior changes won’t happen overnight so don’t give up on your discipline techniques too early. It takes time for a child to realize that every single time he misbehaves, you’re going to follow through with a consequence. If you’re consistent every time, your child will eventually learn to change his behavior.
Keeping your focus on the long-term goals of good behavior will help you to remember that your child doesn’t need to be happy right now, but instead needs to learn the life skills necessary to become a healthy, responsible adult.