By Eva Lyons
Wilmington DE USA
From: NEW BEGINNINGS, Vol. 16 No. 6 November-December 1999 p. 226
Consistency. I thought about it a lot in my early days as a parent. Faced with a child who refused to do anything with any semblance of a schedule, I wondered what being consistent really meant. If it meant always reacting in the same way, how could I do this when every time was different? Yet, I remember thinking that those authorities that said, "every child is different" were copping out. What a good thing that words are calorie-free, because I have certainly had to eat a lot of them.
I have two children who are so different that their preschool teacher says she wouldn't believe they were siblings if they didn't look so much alike. Both could easily be described as "spirited" by those who think positively. The words "stubborn," "willful," and "hardheaded" have also crossed our minds, but we try to replace these with words like "tenacious," "single-minded," and "goal-oriented." While both children are similar in their approaches to life, the parenting strategies required to live with them have been quite dissimilar.
I know parents who have the flexibility of saying "yes" to an ice cream cone at the mall one day and "no" the next. Their children can cope with an explanation of "maybe next time." I also know from experience that if I tell my son "yes" one time, I need to be prepared to say "yes" every single time after this, or he will make himself almost ill trying to get his own way. Once, about three months ago, I permitted a forbidden soft drink. Even though my answers to his subsequent requests for this soda have consistently been "no" (with a reminder of how sick it made him the one time he drank it), he continues to beg for it on an almost daily basis. I have learned that, for this particular child, being consistent does mean doing exactly the same thing every time, because it frees him from the necessity of trying to win an argument. It gets us out of the power struggle loop and allows my son to focus his energy on more productive things.
There is no question that parenting a child like this requires more mental energy. If parents give the first response that comes into their heads, they may pay for it later. Children plan their strategies carefully, too. They learn early that if mother is sewing or on the telephone, she is more likely to make quick decisions about snacks or bikes in the road. Sometimes I say, "Give me several minutes to think this through, or the answer is automatically no." My son knows that I mean it, because I follow through every single time.
This kind of approach to discipline is obviously not necessary with every child. It isn 't even necessary with every child in our household, and we only have two! Children like my daughter need a lot of freedom and space to soar. Others, like my son, need more structure to set them free. What is necessary is careful study of each of our children, with the goal of determining how each child learns and responds best. Our job as parents is to guide our children through life and to help them learn to function within whatever rules or parameters we believe are appropriate.
For me, consistency has come to mean that once I have chosen a way to parent each child, I stick to it, even if it means turning off the stove or putting aside my project in order to carefully consider every response. It also means that, no matter what my actions, my love for my child should be obvious to him - a consistent undercurrent of love and caring. Parenting my children is the most awesome and rewarding challenge I can imagine.
Adapted from the January 1998 issue of LLL of Kentucky 's Area Leaders' Letter, The Circular.