322 Stephenson Avenue, Ste B
Savannah, GA 31405
If you really think about it, there are only two reasons why our children do not behave in accordance with our standards. These two reasons are 1. inconsistency and 2. undermining. Really, undermining is just a subset of inconsistency. If parents are consistent and do not undermine one another, children will have to do whatever their parents expect of them (as long as it’s possible). If parents are kind-hearted and fair-minded people (who generally want to do as much as they can for their children) their children truly should meet their expectations. In fact, if the parents are, indeed, kind-hearted and fair-minded people, meeting their expectations will lead to the greatest possible success for their children.
The fact is, most parents provide everything children want, limited only by their own resources. Parents provide shelter. More often than not that shelter is far better than the minimum required by law, right? Parents also provide food, and more often than not they provide foods kids love, which goes well beyond what is necessary for nutritional standards or sustenance. Isn’t that true? If their children are to have any fun that requires transportation or money, parents have to take part in planning that fun, don’t they? Even the toys kids already have around the house, regardless of where they came from, require some kind of parental involvement since so many of those toys run on the electricity the parents pay for monthly. When you stop to think about it, kids can’t have anything they want without their parents’ involvement.
So, if kids depend on their parents' good will for everything they want, how does it happen that so many parents have trouble with disciplining their children? Simply put, parents are inconsistent. We give warnings and make threats, but often we do not follow through. Due to that lack of follow through, our kids come to understand that we don’t really mean it when we warn or threaten. Most of us have experienced what happens when our kids do know we’re serious. Suddenly we find our previously stubborn child doing what they’re supposed to do. If our kids really find that they lose a prized privilege when they fail to do what we ask, most of them tend to learn their lessons quite quickly.
While it is difficult to be consistent, the need for consistency can be stated and understood quite clearly. So, why is it so difficult to carry out our desire to be consistent? Simply put, love gets in the way. Most reasonable parents of adequate resources want so badly for their children to know they’re loved that they can’t stand it when their kids have to go without. It’s as if we think going without television or snacks is sheer torture for our children. When we stand by a consequence, it's too easy to feel as though we are responsible for depriving them. Of course, we know the truth. Our children are responsible for their behavior, and thus they must suffer the consequences of their misdeeds.
In fact, not only are we not responsible for their feeling deprived, we are 100% absolutely responsible for making sure they understand the importance of being well-behaved. Until they connect our dissatisfaction with their behavior to the reason for their consequences, they will not change. If they don’t get real consequences, it’s as if we are expecting them to grow up on their own, independent of parenting. If we don’t discipline them, when will they learn to be civilized? How will they act when they’re out on their own? The truth of the matter is that our interest in their future should be by far the most significant motivation for us toward making sure they do behave. We are desperate to ensure they have a good future, aren't we? The way we connect our interest in their future to their bad behavior is by making sure that they have consequences for their actions.
Consistency and its relation to consequences is relatively easy to understand, but a particular kind of inconsistency, known as "undermining," is a far more complicated human process. When parents do not agree and the kids know it, especially when parents contradict one another directly in front of their children, it isn’t even reasonable to expect kids to listen. It would be like having two ostensibly equal bosses on one job each who wanted completely different tasks completed, but you only had enough time to please one of them. It would be impossible. The boss you fail to please would surely fire you, unless the other boss saves you, which leads to a whole different level of undermining. When parents do not agree with one another, kids have no idea what to do. We don’t fire our kids, but we sure can frustrate the heck out of them...
Copyright 2010 Daniel A. Bochner, Ph.D. All rights reserved. Material provided on this web site is for educational and/or informational purposes only. This web site does not offer either online services or medical advice. No therapeutic relationship is established by use of this site.
322 Stephenson Avenue, Ste B
Savannah, GA 31405