Strained Relations

Strained Relations: Help for Struggling Parents of Troubled Teens

Consistency in Parenting: It’s Not Always Easy

Posted by Marcia on October 24, 2009

I met a woman who had been a professional nanny for several years. I asked for her thoughts about successful child-rearing. She said parents must be on the same page, be consistent, and have appropriate rewards and punishments.

It seems like such a simple and obvious message, but it’s so important to remember yet so easy to “forgive and forget” a little too soon.

Have you ever looked at your child’s face, knowing he or she deserves to be grounded and you start feeling sorry for them? Maybe you cut them a little slack, let them watch a little TV or play a game. Before you know it, they’re not grounded and not thinking about whatever they did or didn’t do.

Maybe you had a family party planned and you felt the punishment could wait till after the party, and once the party is over, you start to forget the child’s punishment or it seems silly to enforce when you’ve just had a great time.

It isn’t always easy to be consistent as a parent and it is very easy to feel sorry for your child, to identify with the feeling of punishment rather than remember to correct the child’s behavior.

It’s important to keep your eyes on your child’s future, not just the current situation. If you want your child to eventually understand the rules of society, how to be a good employee, how to be a good spouse and parent, that child needs to first understand your family rules and parents must have the rules and enforce them consistently.

Your child will test you at times – that’s what they do! Having these rules won’t prevent every problem but this will help avoid many issues.

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3 Responses to “Consistency in Parenting: It’s Not Always Easy”

  1. Linda Lopez said

    Hi, I just wanted to comment on two things. The first is let the punishment fit the offense. When my son was younger 5 to 10 yrs old it seemed like he could not follow any rules at home or school and constantly was being reprimanded. The Principal at school had regular visits from him, and I was so tired of having to discipline him and hear another bad report after I had already punished him endlessly. At a seminar on ADHD, a psychologist suggested that instead of time outs and “punishments” for all his bad behavior problems, that I start recognizing him when he did things right and reward him with stickers. So he picked out elaborate stickers and he got one for everything he did right, eat w/o throwing food, eat period, get dressed and to school in the morning, not swear at recess, and the list goes on. He got rewarded for what I would call normal behavior. He may have done 100 things wrong such as spitting, chasing the bunny at school, pulling the neighbor’s plants up, but I did an experiment where I said those things were wrong but there was no punishment. Instead, when he listened or did things that should have been expected behavior such as not hitting others, I would catch him doing well and commend him and let him put stickers on the chart. Filled charts got prizes, or outtings and the inside pantry door was covered with stickers. At some point this was self esteem building for him (especially when he was getting in so much trouble at school) and he improved. I reserved punishment for very serious usually physically threatening offenses.

    The second thing was that when I was a kid I remember 40 years later a punishment that was not having an Easter basket one year. I didn’t think my mom was serious about doing it, but when I woke up there was no candy. However, I don’t remember what I did, which was probably something serious, because for me that was a big punishment. But my point is that I don’t think kids connect punishment w/ the offense when they are young. I think it’s more important reward the good and try to be as positive as possible. I think punishment breeds resentment and hurt and being mad and denying a pleasant interaction is detrimental.

  2. Linda Lopez said

    Now onto the teen years. I remember in junior high, my son got terrible grades, was in trouble for hitting. He slapped another kid in the forehead, which he called “Mo ing” him such as a Three Stooges move. He was suspended, and he was lying to me a fair amount, and generally, just unpleasant to be around. As a parent I did a lot of wrong stuff like yelled a lot at him, but a couple of things I did right was listen to his explanations and help him articulate himself with the school and suggest ways for him to make amends without having to be labeled a “bad kid.” One of the things I did not like about the school was that they seemed so black and white about the rules. I think flexibility is actually important as teens do wrong things because reasoning skills are built with exercising compromise and cognitive solutions. And the school didn’t assign value to realizing one’s mistakes and allowing different perspectives. So I defended my son with them often if he was willing to show up and explain himself and be sorry, and ultimately respect their authority but with the chance to explain his point of view. I think the thought process of why kids do things is important and allowing them to feel empowered to be contrite and be accepted is important, and it seems so many schools can’t forgive and neither can so many parents. I think it helped him build a conscience and even though he broke the rules, he was able to actually learn behavior lessons and respect for others when he was treated with respect instead of my anger.

    It’s not to say I was lax; quite the contrary, and it took a lot of effort and follow through for me. One time after he had missed his daily call to me when he arrived home after school to check in and wasn’t answering my calls home from work, he lied to me and said he was taking a nap. So the next day I left work in the middle of the day 20 miles away and followed him after school where I discovered he did not get on public transportation as he was instructed to do, but instead walked home 3 miles on a busy street which was against my rules and was loitering and looking for trouble. I followed a friend and him into a gated housing community where they slipped in as I did and proceeded to the common area nearby the pool and started to vandalize a built-in BBQ. I stopped him in time by shouting out his name behind him and startled him. Then, I made his friend and him get in my car and drove his friend home and made him tell his mother what he had been doing with my son. It was a lot of effort to be “omniscient” mom, and I explained to my son that this time was costing me at my work also, so now he would have to help me more at home with chores I did because I now needed to make the time up at work. But catching him in the act did have some impact and made him think twice about lying to me again. I also explained why I had the bus rule because it was safer than walking, to avoid being abducted or hit in traffic. He could arrange with me about spending time with friends after school to do something productive not destructive, but I needed to know he was safe.

    But it was not until he saw how his life was going to be so affected and unraveled by his decisions that he made the choice to try to stay completely away from activities and people that were triggers to illegal and destructive behavior. The turning point for him was early in his high school when he had shop lifted and brought alcohol and a pocket knife to school to show off, and it was discovered. I had to get two lawyers, criminal and educational, switch his school and isolate him from all his old friends, and supervise his restitution by community service, AA meetings, and attending an outside psychologist, he changed and chose to not have the hassle of getting in trouble again because I did make it a hassle by insisting all these things be done. But quite frankly, it made my life “not fun” also by having to drive to all these obligations he now had to follow through on. All turning our lives upside down with the psychologically tests, school board meetings, etc made him realize it wasn’t worth the hassle to break the important rules, and he took responsibility for keeping his impulsivity in check. And also, he showed remorse and took all the steps he needed to repair his wrongs. He saw how this cost his father and me a lot of time, effort, and money, and emotional worry, and he was sorry. He was rewarded by me for his improvement by getting club tennis lessons which he loved and were a good motivator for staying out of trouble and doing homework. He also got an expensive saxophone for sticking w/ marching band and a trip to China with the band for all his personal discipline in practicing his instrument and not getting in trouble in school and not lying to me. He got taken on snowboarding trips and got all his own gear. These trips were times spent doing very fun things with his family instead of being with his friends because he was not allowed to have any contact with his old friends, and he had to start over and make new friends that were in line with his new values. The fallout from his actions could have been grounding forever, but instead of grounding I wanted to show him alternatives to destructive behavior that were fun.

    Certain things were deal breakers: lying was at the top of the list. As he transitioned into adulthood and was a senior and the reality of teen drinking was more probable since he had a little more freedom after games or social events, I continued to discuss openly the pros and cons of drinking and drugs which for me was all cons, but most importantly not to drink and drive w/ anyone else who was drinking, and we had a deal that he could call me if he made a mistake and drank. By talking openly about all the consequences of teen sex, drugs and drinking, he chose not to. He was not perfect by far. I felt he received a lot nice things without having to get a job and contribute financially and was sometimes ungrateful and rude, but it was important to stay talking and keep the lines of communication going, and let him express himself and tell him my reasons for my decisions. And I had to realize his limitations. His learning disabilities made spending time on a job too stressful since he needed extra time for homework, which was more important to me. Later on, he was thankful for the life experiences he had been given and when times got hard in college he took the bus because I did not buy him a car, and he gave me his pay check from his part time job because I was out of work then. So he never took all his privilege for granted, and he learned in families it’s give and take, and maturity means showing reciprocity. While we may have had opposing views during his teens and now, what I learned was to see his point of view, no matter how upset or angry I was with his behavior, and be empathetic when he made mistakes and understand his peer pressure and take the time to explain myself instead of mandate. I’ve commented a lot here but I guess I wanted to say that sticking to a punishment is not always the way. Follow through means having the mental discipline to set aside our own ego and emotions in favor of what is truly best for our children. I think each family circumstance should dictate what the follow through means and empathetic give-and-take needs to be a part of the repertoire of a parent even in the face of an incorrigible teen. Reason begets reason.

  3. Marcia said

    You’ve written a lot of interesting comments, and because I know both you and your son, this also brings back many memories.

    Your son turned out great and he had his epiphany while in high school. He wasn’t a mean kid at home with a horrible temper.

    Most of the kids I’m writing about have very severe issues, and their parents have often been inconsistent and have been enablers. You should see some of the stories I receive personally and the mailing lists I’m on.

    I agree that you have to be reasonable at home, and it is my intention to write another post about how important it is to also have praise, that punishment alone just doesn’t work.

    My point with this post is that you have to strive for consistency. Divorced parents need to work together and not undermine each other, therefore harming the child. Kids who are in trouble and need to be reprimanded or disciplined should experience the consequences of bad behavior. If you say the kid is grounded for the day, really mean it and that means no TV, computer time, cell phone, etc.

    I do appreciate your post and hope you continue to contribute to this forum.

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