Kids won't obey? Find out why consistency is the #1 rule of good discipline.
“Discipline your children, and they will give you peace; they will bring you the delights you desire.” - Proverbs 29:17
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 disobedience; and you don’t give multiple warnings. Instead, you GET UP AND DO SOMETHING to make sure your instructions are followed. Your children must be conditioned to know if you say it, you mean it. It’s called consistency, and it is essential for successful discipline.
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 consistently 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.
Teachers call it ‘Put your bluff in early.’ Or, ‘Don’t smile ‘til Halloween.’ This just means at the beginning of the school year, you have to be extra strict. You have to make sure your students know you won’t put up with misbehavior. Once you’ve got your ‘bluff in,’ you can lighten up for the rest of the year. It’s the same in parenting. Once you get your ‘bluff in’ and your children are convinced you won’t put up with misbehavior, you can lighten up. (That’s why it’s so important to begin training your children to obey as pre-toddlers.)
How to Be Consistent
Consistency means you have consistent rules with a certainty they will be enforced. There are two parts to consistent discipline:
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 your children allowed to stand on the couch one day and then admonished for doing the same thing 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 every once in a while. Not even most of the time. Consistency means you discipline your children every single time they disobey. You stop it with 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% convinced there will be a consequence for misbehavior, they’ll stop acting out.
The Benefits of Consistency
Being consistent is just a kinder approach because kids love the predictable. They love to know what’s going on. That’s why they thrive on routine and boundaries. Consistency makes children 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 there will be a consequence for breaking a rule.
Inconsistency, on the other hand, 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 give a consequence? Inconsistency leaves children feeling anxious and uncertain.
Being consistent doesn't mean you have to use the same consequence each time. You can vary the consequence. Being consistent simply means you always stop the inappropriate behavior.
Some might argue if they punished their children every time they disobeyed, that's all they'd do all day. But that’s not true! The beauty of consistency is if you are truly consistent, you won't have to discipline your children all the time. Usually a warning will suffice. Like my siblings and me, they’ll know if they disobey, they will definitely get a consequence. The misbehavior won’t be worth the trouble it causes.
Many parents feel it is just not that important to make children obey every single time. They remember the clichés, 'Don't sweat the small stuff,' and ‘Pick your battles.’ So these parents decide only to discipline their children for larger issues. While those clichés might be true for some areas of life, it is not true in the area of disobedience. If children will not obey you in small things, don't expect them to suddenly obey you in important matters. 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 showing 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. 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. You need to tell them that you forgive them and that you love them. But you love them so much, you cannot allow them to grow up with a bad attitude, or think they can disregard rules. They still get a consequence.
Consistency Is Better for Children
If you cannot bear the thought of being that strict with your children, think about this: You are not being mean by training and correcting your children. 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 will they function as an adult? If letting your children get away with things would make them good and responsible, it would be worth it. But it doesn't. It could very well make them unlikable and spoiled. It is much kinder to have your children endure a few moments of tears than to have a life-time of potential heartache. Proverbs 19:18 says, “Discipline your children while there is hope. Otherwise you will ruin their lives.” (New Living Translation).
Besides, your relationship with your children shouldn't center on when you discipline. The majority of your time should be spent loving, encouraging, and up-lifting your children, BUT when they’ve broken a rule, they should be in trouble. Children who know they are dearly loved will not consider you mean when you enforce the rules. They are just learning that you keep your word.
Children like parents who have rules and confidently enforce them. When children see they can easily manipulate you, they'll have less respect for you. And children who respect their parents will love them far greater than children who have no respect for them.
For more about raising your children with Christian discipline and instruction, get Parenting with Focus by Katie Ely.
Want to make new friends and connect with other Christian parents? Host a small group parenting class. It’s easy with The Parenting with Focus Video Course. Just watch the video and discuss the group discussion questions. Easy—and fun!