The advice "It's all about follow-through," is as true in parenting as it is in golf.
All behavior has consequences; however, children can be so focused on the ball rolling into the street that they ignore the risk they take chasing after it.
By following through as consistently as we can with planned consequences (allowing natural consequences, whenever possible, to run their course), parents can help children feel a sense of safety.
BYU researchers Michelle Marchant and K. Richard Young explain that being consistent is one of the "Three B's" of effective parenting.
Consequences Should Be Understood
Dr. Glenn Latham, a parenting researcher, teaches parents how to be more consistent using planned consequences in their parenting.
Have you ever in a moment of frustration threatened to "take away candy for the rest of the year," or vowed to never, ever let a child leave the house again?
Those frazzled scenarios aren't representative of our best parenting. By making sure consequences are understood up front, such as, "If you don't do your chores one evening, you'll need to do double the next evening," parents can reduce contention.
Consequences Should Be Reasonable
Parents should try to match the consequence as closely as possible to the behavior.
If your child walks away from a mess without cleaning it up, it is reasonable to have him return and do so. A less reasonable consequence might be to put him in timeout.
It is reasonable to have a late-returning teenager finish her homework even though she's tired, but not as reasonable to withhold all of her social privileges for an entire week.
Consequences Should Be Manageable
"I keep my word," is simple to say but harder to do. A father who tells his young daughter he won't take her to the movie unless the daughter calms down has to be ready to stay home and miss the movie if the girl remains upset.
Administering consequences takes work, but it should be doable work. Creating manageable consequences will help you keep your word, and not get yourself into a bind!
Oftentimes this means trying to think through the consequences before a situation arises.
Delivered Consistently and Immediately
Children are trusting. If you say you'll do something, they'll believe you will, unless you prove them wrong too many times.
Keeping your word and following through consistently and immediately will create a sense of security and trust between children and parents.
Is your child's behavior difficult for you to handle? Decide on the most reasonable consequence for that behavior, using input from your spouse, and even the child where appropriate (Her drastic measures might surprise you!). Discuss the consequence in a calm moment with your child, and be ready to put it into action when needed.
Life is filled with exceptions. The goal of being consistent as a parent is not to be harsh and unreasonable. If, despite your best efforts to create reasonable consequences, you feel like a consequence does not fit a certain situation, be willing to discuss it with your child. Make sure you explain why there is an exception.
Think of a positive behavior you love seeing in your child, and then create a positive consequence. The "consequence" or reward does not have to be large to have a positive impact. One kindergartner exclaimed as she came home from school, "Mom! I earned my Skittle today!"
In an Ensign article, we read about the importance of parents being unified to achieve consistency. "If parents are to be unified, they must spend time together discussing ideas and planning approaches. One couple met this need in a weekly 'partnership meeting.' They left the home (often stopping for a root beer) and discussed the current needs of their children. Another couple plans a weekend away several times a year—a time to plan, set goals, and strengthen their own relationship. These times give couples the chance to become united in their feelings and objectives" ("Discipline").
Being consistent in our parenting does take work, but less work in the long run. It's like correcting a car as you drive: small corrections as you head down the road do require your attention, but it will be much easier than assuming the car can make it on its own, without guidance from you.
As parents, we are generally in control of planned consequences. Effective consequences for our children are understood by them, reasonable, manageable, and delivered consistently (Latham, 1994). Being consistent with consequences requires time and energy, but you will quickly discover the positive payoffs of consistent follow-through in your parenting.
"Disciplining with Love," Ensign, Sep. 1985, 32.
Latham, Glenn I. The Power of Positive Parenting. Logan, UT: P&T ink, 1994.
Marchant, M. & Young, R. (2005). 3 B's of effective parenting: Be proactive, be positive, and be consistent. Marriage and Families, (Winter), 18-25.