How to discipline your child – part 2


You’ve heard it before – every single piece of literature on discipline contains the word ‘consistency’. Yet it is something that is surprisingly difficult to achieve … and many people wonder how important it is anyway?

The answer is that consistency is more important than most parents realize. In fact, if you cannot provide it in your discipline routine, research suggests you should rather discard discipline altogether. Why? Because a lack of consistency doesn’t only confuse your child – it actually reinforces bad behaviour!

Imagine for a moment your favourite pastime – it could be playing Bingo, golf, fishing, gambling, scrapbooking, video games or checking your Facebook page. Research suggests that these popular pastimes can turn into ‘addictions’ due to what is called the ‘partial reinforcement effect’. In laymen’s terms, it refers to the fact that these activities reward those who engage in them in random, unpredictable ways, and so they become very addictive. You keep going back for more because you are never guaranteed the same outcome. It’s exciting in a frustrating way, and these experiences actually condition you to want more and more.

Now, apply the same principles to your child. When you react in random, unpredictable ways when your child does things that are unacceptable, it’s only natural that he or she is will also over time become ‘addicted’ to the game of ‘what will mommy or daddy do this time?’.

To top it all off, children have such a profound need for consistency in their lives that they, without fail, respond to unpredictable parenting by becoming deeply insecure and fearful. They are then driven to act like little tyrants as they almost feverishly repeat the same behaviour in an untiring effort to ‘crack the hidden code’ of the household they live in. Their innate sense of survival compels them to experiment over and over again as they try to find some kind of pattern or sense of predictability in their parents’ reactions.

This potent mix of survival instinct, fear and excitement is what makes people addicted to extreme sports like sky-diving, base-jumping, swimming with sharks etc. If this mix creates a drive in people that is so strong that it motivates adults to risk their very lives – imagine how easily a child is swept away by it.

Pearl of Wisdom #2:

Discipline is about consistency – the key to forming associations

When parents consistently reinforce good behaviour with positive responses and link negative behaviour with negative outcomes, their children eventually learn to associate various ways of acting with ‘good’ or ‘bad’ consequences. As a result, they really DO crack the ‘hidden code’ of the household that they live in. Knowing that they can largely predict their parents’ reactions in most situations leaves children confident and secure. Consistency leads to associations, which leads to security.

Plain. And. Simple.

What does this mean practically?

• Consistency requires the same reaction to the same behaviour every single time. In other words – if you’ve decided that hitting requires a warning followed by a time-out and persistent nagging requires that play time comes to an end, don’t switch that up the next day.

• Consistency requires that you choose ways of disciplining your child that you can apply once or one-hundred times a day without getting so tired and emotionally drained that you end up losing self-control or throwing in the towel. In fact, repetition is the cornerstone of training – so we can just as well make peace with it.

• Consistency means that you start off the way you’d like to continue. In other words – don’t let your children get away with certain behaviours when they’re younger, and then expect them to understand why they can’t do it later on.

• Consistency is a team-effort. Ideally, all the key persons in your child’s life should be pretty much on the same page regarding which discipline-action is taken when specific boundaries are overstepped, as well as which positive behaviours should be rewarded and how.

The important thing to remember when it comes to consistency is that without it, your discipline routine simply will not work as expected. In fact, it will most likely do more harm than good. Because of this, it is better to have a few rules, that you are capable of consistently following-through on, rather than many rules that you cannot be consistent about.

We cannot have a post about consistency without also reminding you about the power of consistently rewarding positive behaviour – a pat on the back, an approving look and a bit of real and honest validation from you are the most powerful incentives for your child to repeat desirable actions.

So, it is best to count the cost with regards to your discipline routine with your child. The importance of being able to offer consistency will mean that at least in the beginning, until your child starts to form negative or positive associations with their actions, a massive amount of energy will be required on your part. Ask yourself… are you up to it? If not, rather prepare yourself sufficiently and then begin, when you have the courage of your convictions behind you.

Words: Loren Stow
when we know better… we do better

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