One of the most important things in a child’s life is consistency. Of course, you could argue that love is more important, or safety, or nutrition and you’d be right in one way! But consistency is a thread that weaves through all of these areas.

And the reason is fairly clear – yet so often difficult to maintain. Children need to know where they stand. Feeding a baby is a good example. A baby needs to know that they are going to be fed when they need it. If they have to scream for food on some occasions, yet are fed before they’re really ready on others, they will learn that their carer is not reliable and will not develop as a strong a relationship with them.

That relationship that develops between a carer and their baby is known as attachment and is far more complex than being just associated with feeding, but is a very good illustration of why consistency is important.

If a carer responds positively to their child at some times, yet negatively at others the child develops a poorer understanding of their carer’s responses.

It’s easy to think that these responses are natural in parents towards their siblings but of course this can be far from the truth. In working with emotionally damaged parents I have regularly seen situations where the parent’s own emotional and physical needs are so great that they simply cannot prioritise their child’s needs over and above these. The result is that they are unable to provide consistent care to their child since it is largely dependent upon their own feelings.

An example might be that the parent is unable to prioritise the child’s need for food over her own, so will prepare her own meal or go to a fast food restaurant rather than ensuring her child is fed and comfortable. Another example might be the parent’s need for socialisation and a difficulty in ensuring the child’s needs are met before spending time (whether physically or through communication media) with friends.

Most parents have also simply felt too tired to meet their child’s needs at some point, yet the ability to overlook one’s own needs in order to provide for the need of the child is crucial – if not always comfortable!

A major area, of course, where consistency comes to the fore is that of discipline. Children learn at a surprisingly young age that they can, with a little thought, manipulate one or both parents to get their own way! In fact children are so good at this that it seems to be hard-wired into the psyche. The difficulty ofr parents is at least two-fold.

Firstly, they need to have an action plan already in place. This means that they are a step ahead of the child in terms of understanding their needs and knowing how to meet them.

Secondly, and this is where consistency comes in, they need to maintain their position in spite of the child’s response. It’s probably not an exaggeration to say that all parents have experienced the toddler’s tantrum when they can’t have what they want from the supermarket shelf. A tantrum can be frustrating for both the parent and the child because children seem to know how to embarrass their parents in such situations – they somehow pick the right audience to have the tantrum in fornt of – the grumpy old man or grand-motherly lady. And they are frustrating for the child since this is the only method of communication available to them. They have not yet developed the ability to reason.
But children need a consistent approach to situations like this because they need clear boundaries. They actually respond better to a parent who creates consistent boundaries than to one who changes their mind or gives in under the pressure of a tantrum in public. And of course what a child learns from a parent who gives in after a little struggle is that this is the way to get whatever they want.

I well remember working with a family a number of years ago. There were five children in the family and the youngest, a boy, was four. His mother was having great problems with his behaviour and he was developing into quite a wild child. The problem was quite obvious though: he did not have clear boundaries. Another issue was also apparent: he was very clearly showing that he needed boundaries. If he had verbalised what he was feeling he would have said, “Mum, please tell me what’s right and what’s wrong. And stick to it!”

I offered some advice and introduced the concept of the ‘naughty chair’. I’m not a great proponent of sitting children in the corner of a busy room as some sort of spectacle, but this was going to work for him because his bad behaviour was essentially designed to draw attention to himself, so by sitting him quietly on a chair he was no longer doing this and his brothers and sisters were able to get on with whatever they were doing without worrying about him.

The first time I sat him on the chair in response to his behaviour he really didn’t like it – no surprise there! So I gently put my hand on his should, sat at his level and chatted to him calmly. This happened the second time too, but by the third time all I had to do was to ask him to sit on the chair and off he went to sit there quietly. He only needed to stay sitting quietly for about a minute, but the point was that by being consistent in this approach he knew i) what the boundaries were; ii) when he had over-stepped the mark; and iii) what to expect as a result.

The results were quite remarkable even in a short space of time. Unfortunately, despite his mother seeing what I had done and how this had worked for her son, she felt that it was too much like hard work and didn’t continue it. I’m not sure what happened to that family, but I imagine that without a consistent approach that little boy’s behaviour would have deteriorated very quickly and his mother would have become much more frustrated.

A consistent approach to children helps them develop a stronger attachment to their carers along with developing their own self-worth and so is well worth developing as parents – regardless of the fact that it can be frustrating and even embarrassing at times, because the long-term results are overwhelmingly beneficial.

Author's Bio: 

Daniel Forde-Pogson is married and is the father of two young children. He lives in Norfolk, UK and previously worked as a children's social worker for 16 years. Daniel now spends his time working from his home, writing, publishing and looking after the children.
Daniel is currently publishing a series of stories to help children talk about some of the fears they have. You can find them at