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How to Be More Consistent with Your Children

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Choose a Good Time
If you are going to initiate a new plan or start a new discipline technique with your children, choose a good time to begin. An experienced mom gave me this idea. A tax accountant, she was taking my parenting class during the early spring. She explained that she had learned never to start anything new during tax season. She was working sixty-plus hours per week, and was not at her best at home. She recognized that this period was not a good time to make any new resolutions, start a diet, change a bad habit, or try to enforce a new behavior with her children. Very clever, I thought.

Do not try to initiate change of troublesome behaviors just before Christmas vacation or the annual visit from grandparents. Choose a time that is more stable and predictable. This will give you the time and structure that you need to be consistent.

Be Mindful of the Time of Day
There are three blocks of time each day that correlate to increases in misbehavior. Morning routine is often difficult because of pressure to be out the door and off to work and school, which makes parents and children feel tense and urgent. This is a time when tempers erupt and reason and calm abandon us. Prepare for this each day. It is better to awaken everyone twenty minutes earlier to ensure enough time to get ready. Take ten minutes to have breakfast together and have fun. Relax. Model calmness. This teaches children to get their moods ready for the day.

Research has shown that the most difficult time of day for parents and children is the time from after school to dinner. Parents are tired. The children want to release energy that has be stored all day in school. Studies have shown that this is also a time when everyone's blood sugar is low, which makes us irritable. It may be helpful for you and the children to have a snack. It also helps to have a plan for the children. Keep them busy.

Bedtime is a problem for some children. Do not teach your children that going to bed is a punishment that comes at the end of each day. Going to bed is a time to relax and get comfortable. Have a bedtime routine: bath, snack, story, hug and kiss. Use a chart or checklist to teach children to regulate their own bedtime routine. Do not use going to bed early as a punishment. Being sensitive to these difficult times of day helps you focus and be more consistent.

Expect Challenge
Children will test you. No matter how carefully you plan or how strongly committed you are, your children will resist change. Children often respond well to new discipline techniques at first, but after a while, they drift back to previous patterns, and misbehaviors increase. When this happens, do not despair; this is normal. Once you realize that occasional testing of limits will occur, you will be less frustrated and disappointed. Knowing this helps you be more consistent during these periods.

Make the Commitment
The seventh strategy that helps you be more consistent is the awareness that consistency is one of the most important factors in successful parenting. Consistency teaches children what to expect. It teaches children how to predict the consequences of their actions. Once a child can predict the outcome of his behavior, he will make better choices. Making better choices is the key to developing responsibility.

Understanding the importance of consistency will make you more consistent. Consistency is important when teaching positive behaviors. The more consistently you use positive feedback, the more quickly your child will learn appropriate behaviors. This is especially true when you are trying to teach new priority behaviors. Every time you find your children playing nicely, thank them for being cooperative. When you see your son making an effort to clean his room, mention how proud you feel. Explain how he is growing up and becoming responsible, as well as helping the whole family.

Consistency is important when you use punishment. Once you tell your child that a misbehavior will be punished, always follow through. If you slip up or use punishment only when you feel like it, you will make the problem worse. You will teach your child that you do not mean what you say. You will teach your child to be persistent in a negative way; sooner or later, he will get away with misbehaving.

Consistency is an expression of love and caring. When you behave consistently, your children will have better self-discipline. They will see that they are important to you: "I know my parents care about me because they put in the energy and time to make sure that I behave." When you behave consistently, you are telling your children that you will do whatever it takes. That's your job. Children seldom verbalize that they prefer parents who follow through, but they do. It is especially important to teenagers.

Inconsistency causes children to be unsure of themselves. It makes children feel unimportant, insecure, and confused. This confusion compels children to manipulate, tease, or take advantage of unclear situations. Once your children learn that you mean what you say and are consistent, they will take you more seriously and think more carefully about all their behaviors and decisions. Thinking is what you want.

The next time that you feel you need a vacation from consistency, remember Mrs. Ellis. Think about the consequences. Misbehaviors will get worse, and they will happen more frequently. Inconsistency teaches children that you do not mean what you say. Once your child learns this, he will try to get away with other misbehaviors: "If I can get away with skipping my chores, let's see what happens when I come home late." Consistency breaks this cycle.

A certain amount of misbehavior is normal in all children. When you respond to misbehavior consistently, the misbehavior will decrease. When you respond to misbehavior inconsistently, the misbehavior will increase.

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From How to Behave So Your Children Will, Too!. Copyright � Sal Severe, 2000. Used by arrangement with Viking Penguin, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.

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