As a teacher and sleep consultant I feel like I use the word consistency as much as ‘hello’ and ‘goodbye.’ I am definitely a stickler for routine and I advocate consistency in my work. Consistency I think can be a word certainly overused but if we take a second and actually think about what it means it has many variables.
To be consistent is to carry out the same set of instructions, routines, approaches whatever you want to call it every time WITHOUT any in-betweens. It is black or white, there are no crossovers and there are no ‘ifs’ or ‘buts.’ There are no ‘it’s ok this time because..’ and there are no ‘oh just this once..’ It sounds very straight forward but ask any parent it really isn’t. When your little one is screaming at the top of their voice or tugging at your leg because they want to get into your bed, it’s only human nature that we give in. The problem arises because, unfortunately, when we tell our little ones ‘just this once because you’re not too well,’ or ‘only this once because you have been very good,’ actually what we are teaching them is to hold out and persist in what it is they want and eventually we will give in because we did on one occasion.
Children are not mature enough to understand that they may be allowed to do something sometimes and not other times. For children, they get by through learning behaviours and expressing their emotions and sometimes they can be in the most unwelcoming ways! Children thrive on getting a response that is clear and knowing what the boundaries are. Sure, they will test them – every child will! It is a part of exploring who they are and learning what they can get away with, it doesn’t mean that you have ‘the challenging child’ or ‘the persistent child.’ Of course, some will give in more easily and some will hold out longer but given the same response and consistency, every child will learn.
Now, with consistency comes an awful lot of self control from parents. As children age they throw lots of different challenges, the thing that is most important is how do we handle them? The question is does being consistent mean constantly saying ‘no,’ ‘stop it,’ ‘back to bed,’ ‘put it down?’ Of course it does, BUT it also requires a sense of control within us to turn a blind eye, stay calm and IGNORE some behaviours. As hard as that may seem a lot of behaviour from children can be ignored and what many parents get wrapped up in is constantly telling their child the same thing; ‘no, put it down, don’t do that, stop it...’ Children also behave in a particular way to gain our attention and time. It is hard to believe but children will continue to behave in such ways just to get that response of ‘no, not now, stop it.’ This is because they have learnt that whatever behaviour they are displaying they are getting a response from you or they are keeping you from doing what you were doing. This can be in any area and is particularly noteworthy with sleep. Children behave to get a reaction and that is not to say that every time they display a behaviour ignore it, it is to say that actually, it may be harder to ignore that behaviour but more effective in the long run.
I suppose, letting go of some behaviours can make some parents feel like they are letting things slip or even that they are failing. Put it into perspective though, if you are constantly saying the same things and producing consequences they are not going to have as much effect in the long run. Not only this, but you are likely to become so deflated with saying the same things that the consistency will go out of the window in you applying those consequences.
I challenge you to have a think about the things that you would like to ‘fix’ with your child’s behaviour and ask yourself for each of them;
- What is the worst thing that can happen if you choose to ignore this behaviour?
- Could you use your time and energy on something more important?
- Is the behaviour that bad you need to spend time and focus on it so much?
- If someone else’s child was behaving this way would it make you form an opinion?
Hopefully, this will help put some things into perspective. It is ok to IGNORE some things but it is also hard to do that. Recognising that you actually spend a lot of time being consistent on small things that are ignorable is a massive and positive step in parenting making the consequences have more worth.
Stop, reflect and have a breather and remember you are doing an amazing job!
Laura, Babbaboo Sleep.
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