Here I would like to share what I believe is the best parenting advice I ever received. Something that has proven true in our family and that I’ve seen in other families as well:
- Do what you say you will do.
In my observations, parents who struggle typically do the opposite. They don’t follow through on their words but instead make idle threats or promises that kids see through faster than they can turn a bedroom into a disaster zone. So much of your relationship and your ability to correct your child’s behaviour depends upon this basic ground rule. Break this rule, even once, and you will cause immediate damage to your relationship and credibility. Let’s start with some example and then look at how this works.
- “If you don’t clean up your room I will throw out all your toys”. Really? All the toys?
- “If you don’t turn that off right now you will be grounded for a month.” A month?
- “Get in the car now or you can skip the trip to disneyland”. Like your going to cancel vacation!
- “On friday I will take you to the zoo”. And then not going. Best intentions, bad lesson learned.
- “I’ll be home early tonight”. And then not being. What does a promise mean anyhow?
These are egregious examples to make the point, but it shows up in more subtle situations every day as well. Anytime we indicate there will be a reward or consequence and it doesn’t materialize it tells our kids that we cannot be trusted. It is this lack of trust that damages the relationship and is the most significant concern. Each lack of follow through demonstrates to your child that your word cannot be relied upon; that you cannot be relied upon. And subtly it will also show them that they don’t need to do everything they promise as well. A rocky ground for sure.
Of course the more obvious and immediate concern is you lose your ability to influence your child’s behaviour in the future. Once the kids realize, consciously or not, that you either don’t or can’t follow through they will almost immediately stop responding to correction. The effect is difficult to undo as well. Even if we are consistent 9 out of 10 times but miss just once the child will remember. They will often continue to ignore future direction hoping, in the case of negative consequences; or assuming, in the case of positive rewards, that this will be the time we forget.
Here are some more very practical corollaries of this is simple rule:
- Don’t make extreme threats you can’t carry through on (ex. call the president)
- Don’t make overblown threats that you won’t carry through on (ex. cancelling a vacation)
- Don’t promise a reward you can’t guarantee 100% (ex. coming home early)
- At least give yourself some wiggle room (ex “we will go to the zoo”, as opposed to “we will go on Friday”).
And if you find yourself in a tense confrontation and can’t figure out a reasonable consequence then just don’t say anything at all. But we’ll get to that in a later article.
For now just remember for the sake of your relationship and your ability to correct behaviour this advice. Be consistent with your child, say only the things that you will follow through on, and then do what you say you will do.
– the very practical parent