I often get asked the same question: “How do you get your children to mind you and do it so cheerfully?!”
My reply is always the same: “Be consistent!” No matter what your discipline of choice, being consistent is the real key to success!
In order for our children to understand the boundaries, we create consequences. Consequences are what happen when a boundary is breached. They should happen exactly like you tell them they will—every time. It is the consequence that makes my children want to follow my instructions, and it is my consistency that makes them cheerful about it.
We all have different boundaries and guidelines for our families. Some moms make their children clear the table after dinner; others let the dishes sit around until late at night when everyone is asleep and then go in and clean. Neither way is wrong. We are each unique, and our family limits should be too. The question is, “Do you know what your boundaries are?”
If you tell your child to pick up his clothes, does he know you mean it? Or does he know that he really does not have to because you will tell him again in five minutes, then again with a firmer tone until you yell; then he has to do it? If that is your pattern, then that is the boundary you have set. You have consistently taught him that he gets three warnings and an angry parent before he has to pick up his clothes.
When I realized that was happening in our home, I also realized I could change the boundaries. If I had a line that the kids knew they could not cross—why could I not just move the line? I could just tell them once; then, if they didn’t obey, I would follow through immediately with consequences. Say what? It can’t be that easy! Oh, but it is.
Try this: The next time you tell your child to do something, follow the verbal instruction with a consequence. For instance, “Put your shoes on right now, or you will have to miss baseball practice.” (Think it through first. Be sure it’s a consequence which you are willing to follow through with. If you really cannot miss baseball practice, offer something different.) Then, if he doesn’t jump to put his shoes on—even if he lingers for a few seconds in rebellion to your instruction—he misses practice. Bam. Done.
The sad truth is that if he does not put his shoes on, he doesn’t believe that you will do what you said. That, my friends, is the worst part of being inconsistent. If he does not believe you about the baseball practice, then what else does he not believe? Does he believe you when you tell him how smart he is? Does he believe you when you teach him that math is important? Does he believe you when you tell him Christ died for him?
Tell your child the truth. If you say, “You cannot have any candy at the store,” then mean it. Do not give in to whines and fits. Doing so not only leads to a miserable family life; it teaches your child that you cannot be trusted. I know it seems more complicated than that, but really it’s not. If your child’s cries of injustice have no effect on your decisions, then he will stop crying.
I have seen parents get quite angry and frustrated and blame their whiny, screaming children for the problems. I want to wrap my arms around them all and say, “If he is whining to get what he wants, then he knows it will work. You can gently teach him to stop doing that by telling him no and meaning it—every time.”
Stop the madness!
Being consistent is actually pretty easy. It’s really more about training yourself than training your kids. Instead of yelling from the other room for them to stop fighting, get up immediately and go deal with it. When he argues about not getting his way, be unaffected. Whines do not matter—truth matters. If you teach yourself to follow through with what you say—every time, immediately—your children will fall right in with you.
The best news is that in addition to having a more peaceful, pleasant home, you will build trust with your children. Once you have become consistent with your boundaries and truthful in your follow-through, your children will believe you when you tell them how much they are loved.