Parents: Be Consistent in What You Say and Do

For some parents being consistent is a familiar and comfortable part of their nature and experience.  For others it is a personal challenge, because it is not basic to their own temperament, wellness or history.  Whether it’s comfortable, natural, familiar, or not, consistency is necessary both as a tool and a goal, if you are to “be the parent you want to be” as both a coach and role model for your child.

Consistency as a Goal:

Parents become more effective and powerful when they take on the challenge of charging their child’s work to ‘set the stage’ for growth of desirable behavior. Children become more positive when their world increases their opportunities to display their competencies and skill development. The goal and challenge of consistency forms a basic element in the creation of a world set for positives.

Goals are targets we seek to achieve.  Goals are challenges that represent a standard, an ideal which rarely is achieved in the rush of everyday life. Understand that the inconsistency, disturbance and  attention deficit we see in our children’s behavior is not something “they are doing to us.”  It’s developmentally appropriate for children to be inconsistent, inefficient and even a bit obsessive. Consistency as a goal will not, and should not be completely achieved, because:

  1. Children are naturally curious. New learning and growth comes from this curiosity. Complete consistency would limit this natural trial-and-error learning. Observe your children and look at the many ways they use their toys for things other than what was intended.
  2. Children are developmentally inconsistent and inefficient systems. The concept of time as a commodity too precious to waste, is an adult concept.  Young children process time as an expandable commodity. There is no end to it for them. (Remember how long summer vacations seemed when you were a child).

Inconsistency is a characteristic of all biological systems.  Your behavior and the behavior of your child will vary as a result of any factor that influences the effectiveness of the body (i.e. fatigue, hunger, incentive to perform, time of day).  Like thoroughbred race horses and exotic cars, sensitive individuals require optimum conditions to consistently perform at peak levels.

Inconsistency is a statistical fact of life.  Over time, all measured behavior will seek its own average level of performance.  All behavior for all individuals varies around an average point.  Therefore, it is most likely that good days and good behavior may be followed by periods of difficulty.  Take heart.  It is also likely that the bad days and bad behavior will be followed by good days.

‘Setting the stage’ for positive behavior, regardless of how difficult the challenge, will increase the potential for consistency in your child’s behavior.  It will also help you to raise the average level of expectation for your child’s behavior so that you can gradually increase the behavioral ‘average’ to higher levels of positive performance.  With the development of these positive habits, the time and energy you spend in accomplishing life’s tasks will become more efficient.

Strong habits are a bridge across the river of biological inconsistency. They help us to accomplish what we want, even when the conditions of our world are not perfect. They get the job done and add to our sense of control.

Creativity is based on a balance between flexibility and consistency.  Rigidity is often a reaction to unbalanced high levels of inconsistency.  Being consistent allows a sense of control and provides the time required to formulate more effective and novel approaches to the world.  Rigidity is not the ultimate stage of consistency.  It leaves no room to make the adaptations necessary to creatively meet the challenges of life.  The goal of consistency must be in balance with the flexibility required to adapt to change, so that we can continue to ‘set the stage’ for effective growth and learning.

How to Increase Consistency

Children with developmental differences are often inconsistent in their response to events in their world.  These children will display learning one day in one situation, and may not display that skill the next day in the same situation.  Inconsistency is frustrating to parents and teachers because it often seems the child is not trying or does not care when he does not perform as he has in the past.

You can increase the consistency of your child’s performance if you take charge of the following factors in their world:

Level of stimulation: Children are comfortable with various levels of excitement or boredom.  Try to observe your child’s preference for stimulation and provide her with levels that work best for her (usually somewhere between being bored and being over excited).  Think of the ‘stimulation level’ as a factor in the child’s world, an antecedent, which strongly influences behavior.

Level of personal attention:  Children usually perform their best when given a higher degree of individual attention.  Think of “personal attention level” as a factor in the child’s world that strongly influences behavior.

Level of task difficulty: Some children like the challenge of new tasks.  Others do not enjoy being challenged.  Be aware of your child’s comfort zones.  For children who do not like challenge, gradually increase task difficulty, so they can become comfortable learning and performing the desired behavior that they view as difficult.

Internal Body Levels: A child’s body is a finely-tuned machine.  Think of your child as a thoroughbred racehorse that runs best in favorable conditions.  Children too, perform best when conditions are right.  You can increase the chance of better, more consistent performance if you stay aware of fatigue, hunger and, if applicable, medication levels and general body rhythms.

Level of Reward: Children will tolerate more discomfort, accept more challenge, extend their range of acceptable stimulation and require less personal attention if they believe they will receive something of value.  Parents can ‘set the stage’ for more consistent, positive behavior by being aware of the relationship between the value of the reward and the level of task difficulty.

Behavior Control: It’s as Easy as ABC

The term behavior is used in a great many ways. When talking about child development and learning, there is a specific definition of the term that is most important.

Behavior can be defined as any action of the child that can be measured or counted.  To best understand why a child presents a behavior, it is important to understand the situation that occurs before the behavior is displayed.

An antecedent is what’s happening just before the behavior is shown.  To best understand why a child continues to carry out a behavior, it’s important to understand the result of the behavior to the child and to the child’s world. A consequence is what happens to the child as a result of the behavior.

All the World’s a Stage

A child’s behavior is influenced by the immediate and past environment of the child.  To understand the reason why a child behaves in a given manner, we must clarify what has occurred to ‘set the stage’ for the way the child acts.  This type of clarification is called “antecedent analysis.”

Temperament is a major influence on the way children react to their world. Temperament is an inborn, biologically-based characteristic of the child. It’s usually identifiable in the first six months of a child’s life. Temperament is an antecedent that ‘sets the stage’ for behavior. Temperament influences the child’s behavior in the following areas:

Activity Level: The specific level of motor movement shown by the child. This is usually described as high, medium or low.  As the child becomes better able to express thoughts in words, activity level is sometimes used to describe a child’s rate of producing ideas.

Attention:  The average time a child focuses, watches, listens, or relates in reaction to people, events or objects.

Emotionality: The general level of emotional sensitivity to events or changes. Shown by crying, smiling, general irritability, hyperactivity and ease to comfort.

Social ability: The child’s level of interest in people and family matters, rather than things.

Stimulation seeking: The comfort level produced by changes in noise, movement, touch.  Some children like new stimulation and some are very upset by it.  Some love to be touched and others need “special touching.”

Habit regularity: Consistency and ease of habit-development in eating, sleeping and toileting.  Children who are regulated in their body habits are usually easier and less frustrating to raise. Bad habits are minimized and parenting becomes more enjoyable.

– by Frank Doberman, PhD

Dr. Frank Doberman is Co-Founder of Karner Psychological Associates (KPA) and is a leader in the fields of clinical psychology, is a Licensed Psychologist, Certified in School Psychology, Educational Administration and is a regular contributor to News 10 WTEN.

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