When I was a child, my mother used a discipline technique where she would count to three. If she got to three, and we had not obeyed yet, we would be in big trouble. The funny thing is, between my other five siblings and me, none of us actually remember her getting to three. In fact, I rarely remember her getting to two. We usually stopped whatever mischief we were doing on the count of one. Why? Because we knew, without a shadow of a doubt, that if we disobeyed, we would DEFINITELY be in big trouble. All six of us knew my mother meant business!
The secret to getting your children to obey is to embed in their little heads that when you give a command, you mean business! You don't ignore. You don't give in. You don't give empty warnings. Instead, you GET UP AND DO SOMETHING to make sure that your instructions are followed. Your children must be conditioned to know that if you say it, you mean it. It’s called consistency, and it is the foundation for successful parenting.
In the case of my mother, she swears she had all of us trained to know she meant business by the age of two. She had followed through 100% of the time when we were pre-toddlers. After that, she simply had to give a warning because we were conditioned to know that my mother would definitely do something if we disobeyed.
Consistent discipline is made up of two parts:
Are your rules consistent? Do you make your children eat their snack at the table one day, and then let them eat while roaming the house the next? Are they only allowed one hour of TV a day, and yet you ignore them when they watch much more? Does your spouse have one set of rules while you have another? Inconsistent rules confuse children about what they can and cannot do. Get with your spouse and establish consistent rules. Make sure you both agree and are both willing to enforce.
Consistency also means that your rules are enforced every single time. Not just every once in a while. Not even most of the time. Consistency means that you discipline your children every single time they disobey. You don't ignore it or tolerate it. You stop it in whatever means is appropriate for that circumstance. (Although there are certain behaviors to ignore, deliberate defiance is not one of them.) When your children are 100% sure that there will be a consequence for misbehavior, they’ll stop acting out.
Now I know some of you are thinking, “Holy Cow! If I disciplined my kids every time they disobeyed, that's all I'd do all day. But that’s not true! The beauty of consistency is that IF you are truly consistent, you won't HAVE to discipline your children all the time. Usually a warning is all you need. They’ll be conditioned to know, that if they disobey, they will definitely get a consequence. The misbehavior won’t be worth it.
There are a lot of parents, however, who believe the clichés 'Don't sweat the small stuff,' or ‘Pick your battles.’ So these parents decide only to discipline their children for major issues. But here’s the problem with that: If you only discipline your kids when it's a big issue and you overlook the small misbehavior, they’ll be in a HABIT of not obeying you. They’ll reason that half of the time you don't do anything about misbehavior anyway. However, if you train them to obey in smaller things, they'll be in the habit of obeying for more critical issues.
But what about mercy? Everyone makes mistakes, and you need to teach your children to be merciful. That’s true, however, when your child has been deliberately defiant and rebellious, that is not the time to show mercy. The time to show mercy is when the child who is usually obedient makes an occasional mistake.
But what about forgiveness? Forgiveness is definitely a quality we need to teach our children. Listen, no matter what your children have done, you need to make sure they know that you forgive them. However, for deliberately disobedient children, forgiveness does not nullify the consequence.
Now if you can’t bear the thought of being that strict with your children, think about this: You are not being mean by training and correcting your children to obey. You're being mean when you don't. To allow your children to grow up undisciplined and unable to handle it when they have to follow rules, is not being compassionate. It's cruel. How are they going to function as an adult? It is much kinder to have your children endure a few moments of tears than to have a life-time of potential heartache.
Besides, your relationship with your children shouldn't center on when you discipline. The majority of your time should be spent loving, and encouraging, and up-lifting your children, BUT when they’ve broken a rule, they should be in trouble. Children who know that they are dearly loved will not consider you mean when you enforce the rules. They’re just learning that you as a parent, keep your word.
In addition, being consistent is better for children because it makes them feel confident and secure. They don't have to worry about what unpredictable thing is going to happen. They know exactly what's going to happen next. They know with great certainty that there will be a consequence for breaking a rule.
On the other hand, when a rule is not consistently enforced, it confuses children. The children never know what to expect. Will their parents ignore this misbehavior as they've done in the past? Will they just threaten but never really do anything about it? Or, will they actually get a consequence? Inconsistency leaves children feeling anxious and uncertain.
More important than the type of consequence a child receives, is the certainty of a consequence. Consistency is the key to successful parenting.