Maintaining consistency with consequences is something many parents have difficulty maintaining. Perhaps these scenarios sound familiar:
- At a party: “If you don’t stop running around, we’re leaving right now.” But you enjoy a conversation and stay, with no plans on leaving anytime soon.
- At a theme park: “If you guys don’t stop arguing over what ride to go on next we’re going back to the hotel.” Again, you stay a few more hours. Another worthless threat.
- In the car: “If you don’t stop hitting each other I’m turning the car around and we’re not going to the movie.” Minutes later, you’re standing in the ticket line at the theatre.
- At home, you decide there will be no electronics during dinner. For a week or so, you remain firm. But gradually, you start to make exceptions, bowing to the relentless nagging of your teenager.
Your Words Mean Little When You Lack Consistency
Being unwilling to remain committed to limits you set is a sign of weakness, and likely your kids already know this is true for you (if that happens in your home.) Likewise, making idle threats allows your children to see through your words. Their behavior worsens, they argue and negotiate, and you end up with a household where limits are constantly shifting and changing.
This is exhausting and frustrating, and this approach makes parenting feel like a constant battle over limits. Shifting and changing limits are harmful to children. Children thrive when limits are clear and consequences for exceeding the limits are consistently enforced.
The Power Of The Wall As A Lesson In Reality
Imagine that you’re visiting your child at school. Envision yourself standing in the hallway as hordes of children walk by. Let’s pretend the kids are all ages, from kindergarten up to high school, who vary in abilities. Some are brilliant, some are average, and some are below average. Some may have disabilities. Some may be clumsy. Some are gifted athletes. Some will go to work in the family business. Some will go to a community college, and some will go to an Ivy League school. But all of these children have one thing in common: you will not see any of them bumping into the wall.
All the children have great respect for the wall. They do not test the wall, however clumsy or distractible they are. Why?
Because the wall has always been consistent. When they were very little and began to test the wall, they found that the wall always remained firm. If they had a cold or stayed up late or were just in a bad mood and weren’t paying attention, the wall never cut them a break. The wall always said, “Here I am.” The children may have experienced some discomfort when they bumped into the wall. You can imagine toddlers trying to understand why the wall was always so tough on them. And yet the wall was never angry.
The wall never got upset or frustrated or lectured the child who was testing it. Some of your children tested the wall over and over again. Eventually, every single child understands that the wall means business. Every child understands where the limits are. Every child has respect for the wall and stops testing it.
Learn to Emulate The Wall: Firm. Quiet. Always Clear On Limits.
Parents must be the wall. When it comes to setting limits and establishing the consequences for exceeding those limits, becomes like the wall (for those important limits). You must make it simply and consistently clear that limits don’t change because someone doesn’t like them or because the neighbors change their limits or because your kids think you’re mean and unreasonable. Where does this apply? Bedtime. Work before play. No violence in the home. Curfew. Privileges. Public behavior. Everywhere.
When you set a limit, it must be clear that this is a nonnegotiable, relatively permanent decision. Not with anger. Not with rudeness. Not with frustration or defensiveness. Just with firm, consistent resolve. Be the wall.
You want to make parenting easier, don’t you? Set limits and stick to them. Be the wall, and your children will learn to respect limits without constant reminders or repeated consequences, and you won’t have to micromanage their lives.
Remember: Become the wall! Stop talking about it, and stick to it. Life will get remarkably easier…in a few weeks!
Addendum: Our job is about preparing our kids for success in life…success with the way the world works. I call this reality. The more you can mimic reality while holding love in your heart, we will stay on track! Look for part two of this article soon.