If you’ve read any parenting books, listened to podcasts, or eavesdropped on other parents at the playground, you’ve heard that consistency is one of the keys to good parenting. Having a consistent bedtime helps children form better sleep habits and consistency in discipline helps your child understand boundaries and feel in control of their own behavior. But the concept of consistency is more than just a tool that helps parents instill lessons in their children, behavioral consistency is an important lesson in and of itself.
Why You Should Teach Your Kids the Concept of Consistency
We all want our children to become people that others can count on, someone who is reliable and trustworthy. One way others judge trustworthiness is based on whether a person’s actions consistently match their words-- in other words, do they do what they say they are going to do, and do they do it on a consistent basis? This is called behavioral consistency. Of course, this doesn’t mean not teaching your child to be flexible or open-minded, but it does mean teaching your children that there is value in becoming a reliable person.
Teaching Consistency by Modeling Consistency
As with all things parenting, the first and best way to teach your child the concept of consistency is to model behavioral consistency. This means that you have to be reliable and behave consistently.
Think about ways you can show your child you are trustworthy through your actions-- do you follow through when you make a commitment (to your children, friends, to yourself)? Do you regularly follow the rules and boundaries you have agreed to as a family? Do you show up for the people in your life even when it’s not easy or fun?
Point Out How You Try to Be Consistent and Where You Fall Short
Of course, it’s not enough to model consistency, you also need to talk through your decisions and actions with your kids (on a consistent basis).
Talk with your kids about why keeping your word is important to you; talk to them about your decisions, point out where you’ve stuck with something you didn’t necessarily want to, and discuss instances where you’ve fallen short. Talk about how important reliability is to your relationships and how lacking consistency can jeopardize friendships and work opportunities.
Create an Environment Where Your Child Can Act Consistently
One thing you can do to encourage your child to be reliable is to create an environment that allows and encourages them to keep their word. Help your child think through decisions before they commit to something (a playdate, a sports team, helping a neighbor with their pet), and try hard not to over-schedule them yourself. Give your child the option and, in fact, encourage them to say no to things, especially when you know they may not be able to keep their promise.
For example, if your kid decides they want to try swimming lessons, talk beforehand about what that commitment will look like and what they may need to give up to do it (other after-school activities, spontaneous hangouts, etc.).
Understanding the scope of what they are agreeing to and giving your child a stake in the decision will help them keep their commitment in the weeks that they may not feel like getting in the swimming pool. If they decide to go forward with classes, help your child decide how many lessons they will commit to and then help them keep that commitment by keeping their schedule clear during that time. When they’ve finished their classes, talk about how it felt to complete something.
Make Behavioral Consistency a Priority in Your Family
When you are modeling behavioral consistency, talking about your own efforts and struggles to keep your commitments, and creating an environment where your child can successfully follow through on their own commitments; you are making trustworthiness and reliability a priority in your family. You are showing, telling, and enabling your children to think through their decisions and to value keeping their word when they make a commitment.