The Art of Parenting: Creating Stability & Consistency
Our children are counting on us to provide two things: consistency and structure. Children need parents who say what they mean, mean what they say, and do what they say they are going to do.
Barbara Coloroso, speaker & author
I have been a mental health counselor for almost 20 years. During that time I have worked in a variety of settings with people aged 18 months to 80 years old. They have been people in extreme poverty and teenagers with trust funds worth millions of dollars. The common theme in each and every client I have ever seen, regardless of the other differences, drastic or minimal, is their life is inconsistent and unstable. I consider it preventative medicine to provide your child with consistency and stability. When you are consistent, your children know what to expect. People do better in all areas of their lives when they know what to expect. It gives them a special kind of knowledge and comfort.
It is very difficult to provide your child consistency and stability in a chaotic world. However, it is the simple consistencies that will keep your child healthy, grounded, and well-adjusted. Stability promotes a parent-child relationship that’s based in trust. Children can trust you to say and do what you say; and to be true to your word. Trust is the foundation of all strong relationships.
My children, like their mother, are not good sleepers. Neither of my children slept through the night by themselves until they were almost four (four years, not four months!).
My daughter Leah is our oldest child. At around age three, my husband and I were trying to problem solve because Leah was still not making it through the night on her own. She would wake up after midnight and call for us or come get us to lay down with her. We were tired.
We devised a plan and discussed it with Leah. When she could go the entire week, we showed her what this looked like on a calendar, sleeping through the night by herself, we would celebrate by having family sleepover night. Family sleepover night was to be held on Friday. We would pull out the sleeper sofa, get all our blankets and pillows set up and all three of us would sleep in the den.
Because my children (my son was grand-parented into the sleep over night tradition) so love the consistency of sleepover night, it also has become a tool of negotiation. If you don’t finish cleaning your room like I asked, no sleepover night. If you and your brother cannot problem solve who gets to choose what show to watch, no sleepover night. For my children, there is no sacrifice great enough to give up sleepover night. My children even consider sleepover night when deciding whether to accept or reject invitations to stay overnight at a friend’s house. They typically will go so far as to negotiate a switch from Friday night to Saturday night. They don’t want to miss it; they count on it.
This is going to sound strange, but you have to be flexible with your consistency. Like in the sleepover night story, you have to have some flexibility with your consistency. If one way you maintain stability for your children is to always have dinner at 5:30 and a conflict in a family member’s schedule emerges, how will you handle this? This should also be consistent. For example, if someone in our family has to get up super early on sleepover night, we either change to Saturday night or that person opts out. That might not sound like a great plan. However, when you know that next Friday there is another sleepover night, it’s not a big deal.
Many of our family lives are chaotic for a variety of reasons that sometimes have to do with us as parents. Our work schedules, divorce/separation and visitation, economic hardship, emergencies, and commitments to others all can make providing consistency difficult. Sometimes it’s connected to our children that our family life has gotten destabilized. There’s a school play and your child has to stay after for practice, a new sport season, or changing from an elementary school to a middle school schedule are all child-centered destabilizers.
The trick is this: find a few things you can be consistent about and be as unwavering about that commitment as possible. You are making a commitment to your family, your child(ren) and yourself. Consistency provides children with a sense of predictability in a fast and ever-changing world. Consistency stabilizes children. When children have a sense of stability, they feel better and, therefore behave better.
Inconsistency, instability, and chaos on the other hand make behaving difficult for children. It’s difficult to know what do to and how to do it when things are unpredictable. It’s like being in a game where the rules keep changing. You feel confused and discouraged. We don’t want our children to feel that way.
If you are interested in some ideas for low or no cost ways to provide consistency for your kids like our Naughty NO More page on facebook and mention that you would like “20 simple ideas to keep consistency and stability.” I’ll be happy to send it t you at no charge, of course!
Children are unpredictable.
You never know what inconsistency they’re going to catch you in next.
Franklin P. Jones, reporter & humorist