If I had to choose only ONE thing that I wish I could teach every single parent to make their lives easier it would be the POWER and importance of CONSISTENCY.
Being consistent can be so challenging because being consistent with your kids means YOU have to get consistent first. That means when your child presses for something they want, you have to already be clear on what your response is going to be and be willing to STICK TO WHAT YOU SAY.
I worked with a family where the parents insisted that their kids simply would not play alone. It was exhausting for everyone to have kids who were 6 and 10 year old and basically required constant entertainment. I asked the parents if they had tried setting aside time that was designated for the kids to play alone. They told me they had and the kids kept coming out of their rooms complaining they were bored, using stalling tactics, or whining until they got attention.
After spending some time with the family here is what I saw…
Although they had chosen a time in the afternoons where the kids were supposed to play in their rooms… it was really more of a suggestion.
After a few attempts to get out of it, to distract their parents, or to stall, the kids almost always won out. The parents would send them back to their room maybe once or twice and then finally, they would give in.
And more often than not, the parents were trying to enforce this routine at different times of the day to work around other things they wanted to get done or fit in. And they were often changing up plans at the last minute.
So although they thought they were being consistent with their kids, the fact was THEY had not been willing to get themselves consistent first.
So we tried again.
We implemented a clear time each day for solo play. There were clear rules and guidelines, it and was a priority in the schedule (unless something important came up or they had other plans way in advance).
Then when the kids used stalling tactics or complained of being bored, we simply told them that we understood, but they had LOTS of great toys in their room and they needed to go back and find something to do. And calmly walked them back to their rooms and left.
It took about a week. But before long, the kids were playing on their own during their designated times on a daily basis! It was a huge accomplishment.
Then something even more amazing happened…
A few weeks later, not only were the kids playing alone during their designated time, but they had started to discover the JOY of independent play and creative play with each other, and it was happening spontaneously at other times during the day. This was something that had almost NEVER happened to this family and their children were 6 and 10 years old.
That is the POWER OF CONSISTENCY.
Kids will constantly push the envelope to get what they want because that’s what they are wired to do. Their minds are not spinning with a million distractions and to do’s like the rest of us so they have tons of energy to worry about getting what they want. And what do your kids want most of all? Your ATTENTION and CONNECTION with you.
And while it’s incredibly important to make sure your kids get plenty of both – it’s also important to encourage your kids to develop independent play skills, to be able to do (and enjoy) doing things alone, and to understand that even close relationships have boundaries. And kids ONLY ever learn these things (and anything else) through consistency.
Younger children in particular are constantly going to give push back until they get consistent response because they are so innately curious and they are on a quest to figure out how the world works. They aren’t trying to drive you crazy. They are just trying to get more of what they want while trying to understand what response they get for different behaviors. They are trying to figure out the world.
So when sometimes you crack down and enforce the fact that it’s time to play alone but then maybe 30% of the time you cave in and do something to entertain them, you are basically teaching them that often, if they keep pressing, whining, complaining, or stalling…. They get what they want!
So really, you cannot blame your kids for “testing” because they are simply looking for the limit. And until you show them consistently what it is, their curiosity will force them to keep testing for it.
I know that being consistent can be incredibly difficult. And sometimes it’s hard to even see the places where you aren’t being consistent. But teaching your kids that you are serious and won’t give into their testing on a specific boundaries usually takes UNDER ONE WEEK of consistent responses. So if you can commit to and be really really consistent for just seven days, you could drop some of the biggest battles and power struggles you have with your kids.