Consequences must be consistent. You're aiming for consequences that feel as natural and strong as physical laws, right? Gravity and inertia are nothing if not consistent—that's why they're laws of nature.
Consequences should be applied not based on your moods, biorhythms, or whether the Sox won the game. Time is consistent—if sometimes a minute lasted a minute, sometimes 30 seconds, and sometimes a random hour, it would make it hard to schedule anything. Clock companies would go out of business. People would wait in endless lines. Frustrations would mount, empires fall. I exaggerate, but the point is this: Calendars are reliable because we can consistently count on a minute lasting a minute. Consequences and discipline work best when they are consistent.
Words to Parent By
Consistency means sameness—the same rules and consequences over time.
But consistency is more than consequences, and it's larger than limits and rules. Consistency is a general parenting technique, and one of the main definitions of discipline. (Think about the religious disciplines—a big part of all of them is doing the same practices over time, consistently.) It's not just for misbehavior. Consistency is part of the structure of your child's life. It's the reliability of a weekly schedule, a set bedtime, a ritual birthday breakfast, and traditional holidays. It almost doesn't matter what the routine is—consistency gives your entire family something to rely on and lean against. If you promise a special treat, a consequence, a vacation, or special time together, then do it. Don't promise it unless you're going to deliver. Maintain that trust.
It's a Good Idea!
Consistency applies to more than consequences. All of discipline must be consistent. Consistency is part of the structure of your family—your values, your rules, your limits, your consequences, your unconditional love.
Inevitability, Not Severity
In some families, the most severe consequence ever handed down is, “That's it, I'm not telling you a story before bed tonight.” That's fine—it's not the severity of the consequence that matters, it's the fact that certain kinds of behavior are not acceptable, and if that behavior happens, that consequence will occur. Kids get the message, and learn from it, when consequences are inevitable for certain behaviors.
No Waffles at This Breakfast Table
Don't set a rule, limit, or consequence unless you're going to be consistent in enforcing it. Easier said than done, especially if:
- Your kids are as cute and manipulative as mine.
- Your own upbringing was either inconsistent or overly structured.
Kids Make Your Wees Go Kneak
Kids are physically designed to be cute so that we respond to them. The big heads and eyes of babies affect all human beings with the desire to care for them. (It's the big head/eye thing that makes us love puppies, bunnies, and little lambs, too. We can't help it!) Babies need adults to do things for them—they can't walk, feed themselves, or pull down a living salary. Babies grow into kids, but it takes most kids a long time to grow out of their ability to charm. (Some people never do, and I'm sure you know one or two adults who bat big eyes, or give you that puppy dog stare and make you melt into submission.)
Because of the powers of children to make you get weak in the knees and grin uncontrollably, you have to be on your guard to maintain your consistency. Ignore the wheedling, the dewy sobs, the look like, “You're killing me, Ma” when all you're doing is enforcing a very sensible, explicit limit or consequence. Choose your position, and stick to it. Whining should make you firmer than ever.