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The Trouble With Inconsistent Parenting & How to Change It

by Vannessa Rhoades 31 Mar 2023
 The Trouble With Inconsistent Parenting & How to Change It

Consistency is one of the most important and effective approaches when it comes to parenting. Consistency means intentionally deciding how you are going to interact with your child and not deviating from that intention and practice over time. It means being even and constant with your routines, your discipline patterns, your schedule, and how you connect with your child emotionally.

Consistency gives children boundaries and structure. This helps them manage what they’re learning about the world and adapt their behavior. Even more critically, consistency provides children with a sense of predictability that reinforces their feelings of trust, security, and comfort.

Inconsistent parenting, on the other hand, is extremely difficult for children (and therapists). Parents who change their minds frequently or fail to provide effective leadership are more likely to raise emotionally volatile kids. Let’s take a closer look at the importance of consistency, inconsistent parenting effects, and how to better manage your routine.

How Consistency Benefits Children 

Kids learn by watching, absorbing information, experimenting with behavior, and repeating. Consistent parenting helps children know what their caregivers want them to do. It helps them foresee how a parent will react when they misbehave. That doesn’t mean that they won’t still make wrong choices or try to test your limits. It also doesn’t mean that as a parent you have to be completely inflexible in every situation. Over time, though, consistency helps children feel safer and behave better. Consistency is the lens through which children view their world. If they can anticipate the consequences of their actions, they feel more secure and can make better choices. 

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The Effects of Inconsistent Parenting

Inconsistency can feel extremely illogical and disorganized to kids. For instance, if one day, their caregiver becomes upset and screams about something they did, but the following day it's accepted without question, the child receives the message that grown-up reactions aren’t predictable. It also teaches them that they can't rely on their caregivers' rules and expectations. This can lead to combativeness, anger, frustration, chaos, and/or apathy. Children raised by inconsistent parents often become agitated and nervous. Learning how to manage this type of anxiety at a young age can be overwhelming for children, leading them to engage in tantrums, whining, and other disruptive behavior.

How to Deal With an Inconsistent Co-Parent and Other Caregivers

Consistency is essential with any important caregiver in a child’s life, not just their parents. Grandparents, babysitters, and teachers should all employ simple, straightforward practices that promote consistency. Everyone must work together to help the child develop and learn.

Dealing with an inconsistent caregiver in the mix can be challenging for everyone involved. Try to maintain an open line of communication between all caregivers to that everyone sets the same rules and is on the same page about the lesson you want your child to learn. For instance, choose basic house rules and implement them similarly to how rules are executed at school. Ensure that your routines for bedtime and getting ready for school are reasonable and that you have age-appropriate expectations.

How to Handle Challenging Behavior

It’s normal for kids to misbehave, especially when they’re young and still trying to figure out the world around them. In order to change undesirable behavior, parents must have consistent consequences in place. It may not happen overnight, but children will eventually start to alter their behavior.

It’s also important to make sure the consequence fits the misbehavior. A logical and related consequence is typically the most effective way to stop undesired behavior. Time-outs and other related forms of punishment are frequently issued without any obvious, specific connection to the undesirable action. This approach may seem illogical to a child and cultivate feelings of loneliness and confusion. Instead, explaining to a child that time-outs are an opportunity to calm down and reflect upon their actions may be a more useful strategy. 

Maintaining a Consistent Routine

One of the most beneficial things parents can do for their family is to have a schedule and adhere to it. A predictable routine helps your children understand what to expect each day. As a caregiver, you must teach your children what your expectations are and establish a framework or routine for letting your kids know what they need to accomplish and when. So how do you do it?

Be clear about what’s expected

When children clearly understand what they’re supposed to do, they feel empowered and are more apt to respond to the task in a positive way. Repeating a task, whether brushing their teeth each night or taking out the garbage after dinner, not only strengthens the routine but helps improve independence, organization, and their sense of responsibility.

Manage modifications to the routine

After a routine has been set, try to adhere to it. If you need to make changes, have a conversation with your child and allow them to ask related questions. This allows them to be mentally ready without being caught off guard or feeling nervous. When disruptions do occur (as they inevitably will), try to get back to the routine as soon as possible. Staying calm and consistent helps reassure your child that they are safe with you when life may otherwise feel unpredictable or out of control.

The Takeaway

Consistent parenting takes patience, effort, and commitment to the process. No one does it perfectly, so be gentle with yourself if you occasionally let some things go. It’s important to be flexible when the situation calls for it. Consistency and flexibility are both intentional choices, and being intentional with your actions is what will help your child grow and develop into a responsible, self-confident adult. 

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