Say What You Mean And Mean What You Say
Following through as a parent is hard. Who among us has not threatened to cancel Christmas or a vacation, knowing full well that we’d never do it? Who hasn’t said to themselves, “Ugh, it’s just easier to give in”?
We’ve all been there. Which is too bad, because inconsistency in following through is a big parenting traps. It leads to stress and tension at home, non-compliance, and “mother deafness.” Following through may be one of the most important discipline strategies you can use as a parent.
To understand why, let’s start with a basic lesson in reinforcement. Think about what happens when your child asks for a cookie before dinner. You say no, but your kid just keeps at it, begging and nagging and repeating himself, until you’re ready to scream. So you let him have the darn cookie. What’s the message to your child here? “Sometimes Mom/Dad says no, but if I ask enough times, I get a yes anyway. I don’t know how many times I have to ask before getting the yes, so if I’m prepared to give it as long as it takes, I’ll eventually get my way.” Yikes. That’s practically the polar opposite of what we’re aiming for as parents: I tell you once, you accept it and move on. This is a hard pattern to break. Your children never know what that magic number may be – and they realize that the number may change based on the situation, the day, or your mood – so they are reluctant to throw in the towel. Ever.
Another reason that following through is so potent is because it gives our kids proof that we are reliable and trustworthy, that our word is good. This is really important to kids, because they need to know that we have their backs, in a way. In an unpredictable and sometimes scary world, Mom and Dad can be counted on. While they may not always like your actions when you follow through, it will still provide a sense of comfort and security.
But why is following through so hard? Well, sometimes we set ourselves up for defeat. We toss out punishments and consequences that we don’t really mean, and then we backtrack. We get worn down and exhausted by all the nagging and fighting. Maybe we don’t have the support of our partner or the other parent, and it feels like an uphill battle to fight against everyone. Sometimes, when we see how upset our child is, it melts our heart and makes it hard to stick to our guns. Or they mope around the house and make their misery contagious, until we’re begging for the chance to change our minds.
The problem with giving in, is that it’s a short term payoff with a long term loss. The lessons we teach our children by not following through are not good lessons. It only encourages our kids to not take us seriously and to use guerrilla tactics to get what they want. And it simply makes it harder to get back on track again, because of our track record.
These are moments when we need to take a deep breath and think about the bigger picture. Asking ourselves, “What will I be teaching my child by giving in? By following through?” can help us to decide which course to take. Having agreed upon consequences and rules that everyone understands upfront can also help, so you’re not trying to think and react on the fly. Following through isn’t always pleasant, but it is always important.
5 Things You Can Do Today To Improve Your Family Life, besides following through.
Asking Once can be a big part of successfully following through.
Feeling like a lack of respect is part of the problem? Encouraging Respect in our kids may help.
Family meetings can help to create those routines and rules that can make following through easier.