Being consistent when children are less than perfect can make you feel dreadful. However consistency is one of the most important elements in the relationship with your children, but it is the one most frequently overlooked.
Consistency means dealing with the little misbehaviours and not letting them grow into bigger behaviours. It means saying no to children's constant requests for five more minutes of television at night or a third serve of ice cream. It means following through and allowing children to experience a consequence when they misbehave every time. It doesn't mean if children arrive home after dark from a friend's place you ground them sometimes but at other times you just voice your disapproval. That type of inconsistency makes you responsible for children's misbehaviour and teaches children nothing about accountability.
Consistency also means that both parents have a similar approach to behaviours. If mum is too strict and dad is too lenient children will know who to go to if they wish to take advantage. They will soon play one parent off against each other. If a child wants to get away without doing a job or stay an extra hour at a friend's place just ask dad because he is easy-going. Even if you are separated, talk about your approaches to discipline and find some common ground. Agree on such issues as family rules, pocket money, and guidelines for going out and suitable consequences for misbehaviour.
If you disagree with a partner's approach do so behind closed doors. When unplanned situations occur don't be afraid to tell your children that you need to consult with your partner before making a decision. Children will realise that you are working as a team and that you are making a considered approach to their behaviour or request.
Consistency, like routines, are often sacrificed by busy working parents and put in the 'too hard basket'. When we are tired, stretched and overworked the last thing we want to do is engage in a battle with children over what are sometimes petty issues. You may have spent the whole day dealing with difficult customers or colleagues only to come home and find that you have another battle on your hands with equally belligerent children. So to avoid an argument, a tantrum or tears you give in to your child's unruly behaviour or unreasonable request.
But giving in rather than being consistent and holding your ground is a smart long-term strategy. Kids learn quickly how far they can push a parent before they give in. If you give in occasionally they will learn that if they push you hard enough and long enough you will cave in. So consistency is about being strong and holding your ground. That is hard work because the average child will push parental boundaries about 30per cent of the time and more difficult kids push your boundaries twice that much. It is hard work being consistent but good parenting demands it.
A comprehensive strategy to help you effectively manage children's behaviour is available in Michael Grose's landmark parenting book - One Step Ahead. It is available at the shop at www.parentingideas.com.au.
Michael Grose is Australia's leading parenting educator. He is the author of six books and gives over 100 presentations a year and appears regularly on television, radio and in print.
For further ideas to help you raise happy children and resilient teenagers visit http://www.parentingideas.com.au . While you are there subscribe to Happy Kids newsletter and receive a free report Seven ways to beat sibling rivalry.