What is the Importance of Consistency with Family Rules?
The best way to set boundaries and guide your kids to follow the rules is to be consistent.
As you already know, it’s human nature for your kids to want to test the rules and push some boundaries. Consistency is important in establishing new rules as well as helping children adjust to change.
I hope you understand why it’s important to be concise, clear, and consistent when it comes to rules. It is the most effective way to establish what you expect from your kids.
Kids who know what is expected from them and what to expect from their environment have a sense of security and stability that is essential for their well being and happiness.
Consistency is important in the early years of your child’s life. You already appreciate the value of routine and see how your child responds to having a consistent set of expectations (an after-school routine, for example). Of course, we’re human – not machines.
It’s not possible to be 100 percent consistent about following the rules and setting boundaries; you’ll forget or bend a rule every now and then. So, when I say “consistent,” what I mean is to be as reliable and unwavering as you can on a daily basis. Be consistent within reason, and with room for some discretion and flexibility. After all, you wouldn’t want to raise robot-like kids with a rigid sense of following the rules, no matter what.
When you are consistent…
When you are consistent about reinforcing and rewarding your kids for following the rules, you do more than establish reliability and stability in their environment. You also send your kids a message about how much you value them. When you consistently follow through with natural consequences and help your kids take responsibility for their own actions, you teach them a beneficial lesson, one that helps them build character now and as an independent adult.
When you are inconsistent…
When parents are inconsistent with maintaining important rules, their kids get the message that their environment is unreliable, and at times, even unsafe.
Now, let’s take a look at an unintentional side effect of being inconsistent:
“Intermittent Reinforcement” refers to occasionally (not consistently) rewarding a behavior. For example, if you praise or reward your child every other day for doing his daily homework instead of praising him everyday, that’s a form of intermittent reinforcement. This form of reward can be very powerful. It is sometimes more effective than consistent reinforcement. Intermittent reinforcement impacts almost everyone at some point.
The gambling industry counts on this form of reward system! What reasonable person would choose to sit in front of a machine for hours, pull a lever, and lose money as a result? Chance are, however, many of you have done so at least once! If you think you haven’t been influenced by this type of reward system, remember the last time you played a slot machine, or played the lottery at your neighborhood convenience store.
Many of us engage in this behavior once in a while because of the allure of a possible reward. Slot machines are a perfect example of how intermittent reinforcement works.
On the other side of the coin (no pun intended), when we don’t consistently receive consequences for our negative behaviors, in effect we are being inconsistently rewarded (or intermittently reinforced) for a negative behavior.
For example, I don’t get a speeding ticket for breaking the speed limit every time I happen to drive too fast. (Not that I’m admitting to anything here.) If, consistently I would receive a ticket every time I broke the speed limit, I would have stopped speeding altogether a long time ago.
As a parent, you may wonder, “What does the concept of intermittent reinforcement have to do with being consistent?”
As a responsible parent, you invest a lot of time making sure your kids don’t get away with much because you know that if your kids think they can get away with breaking a rule, they’ll be tempted to try it. That’s supported by what we know about how intermittent reinforcement works. Every time your kids see some inconsistency and they get away with breaking a rule, they feel rewarded because they didn’t face any consequences.
You hope you’ll be able to catch your kids when they are testing the limits and breaking any rules. But beware – they’re usually on the look-out, too!
When the house rules are clear and the kids are consistently rewarded for observing them, and when the kids face natural consequences for not following the rules, then there is very little problem. However, the problem begins when the rules are not consistently established, followed, or enforced; or when the consequences are not clear to your kid.
When your kids feel reinforced occasionally (intermittently) for bad choices, they receive a very powerful form of reward. Now you have a better understanding of how powerful intermittent reinforcement can be, from your child’s perspective.
Keep that in mind the next time you are being consistent about the rule, and stay the course!
Dr. Sherkat is a parent strategist who is available to do Parent Education Workshops, either Private or PTA Sponsored Classes.
Contact her at 425-772-6698.