A Parent’s Best Friend
If there’s only one tip that parents should take to heart, it’s this: be consistent. Regardless of what behavior you’re trying to change or what routine you’re trying to get into, being consistent gives your kids the opportunity (as Dr Phil says) “to predict, with 100% accuracy, what the consequences of their behavior will be”. Predicting what will happen if they make a certain choice over another gives our children the opportunity to make informed choices and develop new habits.
If you studied psychology, you may have learned about reinforcement schedules. The basic explanation of a reinforcement schedule can be made by using an example. A child learns that he gets a snack by begging and whining. If he gets food every time he does this, that is a continuous schedule of reinforcement. He learns that when he’s hungry, he whines and complains, and presto — problem solved. When he tries this tactic and is not rewarded with a snack, however, our little test subject learns very quickly not to bother whining. Why waste the effort when another strategy might be more effective?
If, however, he is rewarded sometimes when he is being a nuisance, he will knock himself out doing it over and over again, waiting for the unpredictable, desired result. This kind of behavior pattern is really challenging to change, because the child, correctly, figures out that it’s a numbers game, and that if he keeps his efforts up, he’ll get what he wants…eventually. Maybe, he thinks, the magic number is 100 — he has to press Mom’s buttons 100 times before he is rewarded. Maybe it’s 1000. Regardless, he’s prepared to go the distance because he knows that persistence pays off and it does work.
This is why consistency is so important for parents. No one is perfect, and we’re going to have moments when we slide back into old habits, there’s no doubt about it. But the more often we can be consistent, the more quickly we will notice the ripple effect in our kids’ behavior. Perfection isn’t possible, but it is a worthy goal to make an effort to be as consistent as humanly possible. (And then give yourself a break those other times!)