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How important to the fine art of parenting is consistency? Is consistency possible or is it a myth?

Yes, consistency is important and no, consistency is not possible!

Parenting advisors and child rearing professionals are forever telling parents that they ought to be “consistent.” Yet no parent is consistent all of the time. And consistency between two parents who are individual persons with different temperaments and who have been reared differently is nigh impossible to achieve or even expect.

Obviously, parents should not confuse children about what is expected of them. It would be a breach of sound parenting, very foolhardy, and even illegal to insist that your children buckle up in the car one day and tell them they don’t have to on another day. Safety rules must be used consistently and obeyed by the kids–EVERY TIME. Similarly rules about hitting must always be enforced; hitting is never allowed.

Consistency is also an important part of what we call “behavioral modification.” Whenever you are using specific rewards or sanctions to control or modify specific behaviors, consistency counts. You only give the gold star when the child has met the specified expectations.

Perfect consistency between parents is impossible but any arguments about how to discipline or deal with specific issues should be resolved in private (and out of earshot). Nothing is less productive. When kids hear parents argue about what to do or how to do it, they will take advantage of your disagreement.

It is also a poor parenting ploy to make a rule you do not intend to enforce or one that is impossible to enforce. Not prudent to tell a teen, “You’re grounded for life!”

But I can think of some acceptable examples of inconsistency.

o Parents can usually tolerate some degree of disorder but want the toys cleaned up before a party. Kids can easily deal with this and even get into the party spirit with you.

o A parent can handle usual and normal household noise levels when feeling OK but not on a day when a headache is throbbing. Children are naturally empathetic and can easily learn to quiet down because Mommy doesn’t feel good.

o There will be times when parents ordinarily explain the pros and cons of an issue but there might also be times when parents have to say, “Do what I tell you right now, I’ll explain later!”

o Parents should change their minds when they get new information. You might find out that guns are unsafely stored in your child’s friends’ house and tell your child that house is now off-limits.

o Although safety and “no hitting” rules must be enforced by everybody, there are many people who interact with our children like grandparents, baby sitters, teachers, etc. who have different ideas and standards about other aspects of child behavior. It is not only OK but desirable for your children to figure out that Grandma does not allow kids in her living room or that the teacher insists that shoes be worn at all times. One of the most important lessons children must learn is how to deal with, and react appropriately to, lots of different people.

So, perfect consistency will never be found in your house or mine but wise parents try not to confuse their children. Remember a preschooler is asked to change his or her behavior every 6 to 8 minutes during the waking day. That’s a lot of parental requests–let’s have mercy and make it as easy as possible for our kids to learn what is expected of them!