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Parenting With Inconsistent Parents

By Kathryn Hatter ; Updated June 13, 2017

Parents attempting to raise well-adjusted and loving children who will grow up to be successful adults face a variety of challenges. The common pitfall of inconsistency can cause problems with child security and behavior, according to the University of Alabama Parenting Assistance Line. Strive to parent consistently to ensure that you give your children the best start possible.

Definition of Consistency

Consistent parenting is the process of setting clear rules for children and communicating those rules so children understand them. But once you've set the rules and children understand your expectations, your work is not yet finished. You must enforce and uphold your rules every time so children come to know and trust that you will do what you say and you will expect them to follow the rules. Children learn that if they break a rule, a consequence will result. Consistency teaches children predictability, and it eliminates the stress, confusion and anxiety that come from not knowing what might happen, according to family counselor and author Raymond J. Corsini.

Examples of Inconsistency

Inconsistent parenting can manifest in a variety of ways as you work to raise your children. One common way parents struggle with consistency is telling children no. When a child asks for another cookie and the parent tells the child no, the child may not accept the refusal. If the child asks again and applies a little pressure, the parent may eventually give in and allow the child to have another cookie. This inconsistency teaches the child that she needs to just keep trying and eventually no will become yes. Another example of inconsistency is in applying consequences to rule-breaking. When your teenager has a curfew of 11 p.m. and he comes home 30 minutes late, it's time to deliver the promised consequence of grounding the next weekend. If a parent fails to deliver the attached consequence, the child learns that parents do not enforce curfews consistently.

Problems with Inconsistency

Children need to feel trust for parents. This trust provides important security that shapes the child's behavior and emotions. When a child doesn't know exactly what will happen in any situation because parents perform inconsistently, the child may feel confusion, anxiety and distrust. In fact, according to the University of Alabama Parenting Assistance Line, inconsistent parenting may even contribute to irresponsible behavior in children because children may develop habits of testing parents.

Suggestions for Improving Consistency

Set family rules of conduct carefully to improve your parenting consistency. Do not use too many rules or rules that you are not likely to enforce -- this can be overwhelming for both parents and children. Make a commitment to yourself that you will enforce rules consistently, even when you feel tired or distracted. Don't forget to parent positively also. Consistently provide your children with praise and positive feedback when they follow rules and act obediently.

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