John Berkowitz, LCSW and associates - Psychotherapist
Family Healing Center - Livingston & Teaneck, NJ
One of the biggest challenges and joys in life is raising children. It can be stressful and difficult one moment, and a pleasure the next. Often, parents feel that they are on an emotional roller coaster, and end up wondering if they are doing the best they can and if they can possibly meet all of the demands that life has brought their way. Some parents find that familiar patterns from their childhood don't work with this newest generation of the family, that they don't see eye-to-eye with their spouse, or that they need to gain a new perspective. Some struggle with issues of single parenting or co-parenting after divorce.
Many parents are faced with understanding developmental concerns about their children, or with a diagnosed learning, attention or behavioral issue. Their days are filled with managing complicated needs, accessing appropriate therapies, and advocating for services at school and in the community.
Parent / Child Relationships
Parent / Child relationships can be the cause of tremendous frustration for both parties at all ages.
Parents are frustrated when children act disrespectfully. Children are frustrated when parental guidelines are unclear. Inconsistency in speech and actions by a parent can create defiance and disobedience in a child. The relationship is often complicated by divorce, new spouses, single parent status or the need to work long hours outside the home. The establishment and enforcement of standard behavior can get lost in the turmoil and confusion of everyday life.
Grown children and their parents can find themselves at odds in the "same old ways" or in such new and difficult areas as caretaking reversals.
Counseling can help address the underlying basis for parent/child difficulties. Discipline, and logical consequences are major keys in improving the relationship when children are young. Counselors work with parents to find nonviolent solutions (like rule setting and consistency) to unacceptable behavior.
Mediation can help parents and teens, or adults and their parents, come up with agreements that work.
On the Importance of Consistency in Parenting
Consistency is one of the most important concepts in life. Be it in your personal life, professional career, family system, romantic relationships, or friendships, consistency is key to understanding what you want and what you can get out of a situation. There is no area where consistency is more essential than in parenting. Children of any age thrive with consistency. One of the most difficult aspects of raising a child from the time they are infants is communicating to them what you need and understanding what they need. For parents, especially in a unit, it is very difficult to be 100% consistent.
Every interaction between a child and a parent provides a learning experience for the child. Children learn how the world works and how communication works through the way in which their parents interact with them. Every challenging behavior a child displays presents an opportunity for a parent to teach a valuable lesson to their youngster. Of course, while each behavior will vary, parents need to deal with each behavior in a consistent fashion. This will communicate to your child exactly what is expected of them in any given situation.
Consistency Helps Children Understand
A lack of consistency in parenting may create far more devastating consequences than you might initially imagine. Sending your child mixed messages will confuse them and can be particularly detrimental for young children. Babies and toddlers cannot decipher what types of behaviors merit reward and what types of behavior warrant reprimand. Reward and punishment is one area where consistent parenting can really help save some time and energy. However, this is a very difficult task. No doubt, sometimes, as parents, we get frustrated or angry and threaten things that we don’t really mean. Some days after a long shift we are too tired to follow through with punishments, we don’t have the strength for temper tantrums, or we cave to our begging doe-eyed youngsters. Be consistent from the start.
The concept of consistent parenting is fairly simple to understand. Being inconsistent in your parenting techniques communicates mixed messages to your child. These mixed messages are defined by behavioral scientists as “intermittent reinforcement,” meaning that sometimes a child is punished for a behavior and other times they are not punished for that behavior. Intermittent reinforcement can actually encourage negative behavior. For example, if a baby or toddler is screaming (for no reason) and you eventually give in and give the child what they want, you will actually be training them to cry longer to get what they want. The behavior taught by this kind of inconsistent reinforcement is the most challenging behavior to alter or end. If you maintain a consistent reinforcement strategy with your child (or children) from a young age, they will be more likely to develop the behavior that you wish them to display. Responding to a child’s behavior in a different way each time it occurs is severely counter productive.
Consistency -Final Word
Determine the goals that you have for your children and your parenting and establish a routine for the way in which you respond to various behaviors. Inconsistency is only going to make things more difficult for both you and your child. Work with your partner and any other adults who will be caring for your child or children (such as grandparents or other family member) to develop a consistent behavior reinforcement plan. If everyone is on the same page, including your child, everyone will be more likely to be successful and happy.
content © John Berkowitz 2015