Surviving in a House of Chaos: Maintaining Consistency

Tonya Ratliff, MA, LPC, NCC, ACSby Tonya Ratliff, LPC, NCC, ACS

Implementing structure, maintaining consistency and managing expectations were identified as the three pillars of effective parenting in my previous article Surviving in a House of Chaos: Take Back Control with Effective Parenting. In this article, I would like to address the task of maintaining consistency in greater detail.

The second pillar of effective parenting is consistency and is defined as doing things the same way each time—and—over time. In terms of parenting—THIS is the # 1 area where most parents falter. Making exceptions to the rules or to consequences repeatedly dilutes your authority, and teaches your child that you will eventually give in. From a behavioral point of view this parental behavior actually reinforces the child’s resistance to your authority. This is actually a classic example of intermittent reinforcement. If a parent says “no” and then eventually changes their mind under pressure, what the child learns is that begging works (!). Therefore, they will beg even more next time. When we see a child who is resisting “no” for an answer from a parent, we often say, “That child is spoiled.” However, what we should really say is, “That child’s poor behavior has been intermittently reinforced!”

Family life is overwhelmingly busy as we make our way through work, school, sports and extracurricular activity schedules, meals homework, household chores and extended family commitments. Amidst all of this chaos, consistency is comforting to a child, who can often feel that so much of his world is out of his control. When your requirements of your child change from day to day, he is unable to ever be certain of what you expect. Unclear requirements from parents result in frustration, and frustration undermines the child’s desire to comply. Inconsistent messages from parents cause the child to constantly question the fairness of their authority. For example: “Why do I have to clean my room today when it wasn’t required of me last week?”

Additionally, they may not admit it to you, but kids do understand different sets of parameters for their siblings based on age, responsibility level and privilege—they just don’t like it! With that in mind, consistency must extend to all the children in the family; tempered by each child’s age and level of maturity. Otherwise, you are setting yourself up for arguments of injustice and unfairness among siblings.

Lastly, don’t confuse consistency with rigidity; tactics need to change as the child matures. It makes sense to recognize each child’s maturation and advancement to a new level of trust and responsibility, while also honoring your child’s need for parental consistency.

Trinity Family Counseling Center
45445 Mound Rd, Suite 111 Shelby TwpMI48317 USA 
 • 586-254-3663

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