“Consistency is the way you tell children that you can be trusted”. 1
Consistency in the adult world
As the 8:30 tardy bell for students rang, I looked up from my desk to see my coworker Gary unlocking his office door. I had helped two of his eighth graders since I arrived at school. Our administrator Mr. Gates had been by the office looking for Gary.
His tardiness didn’t affect me. In fact, I enjoyed seeing the kids who had been my seventh graders the year before. The previous semester, Gary told me that our principal had talked to him about being late. Yet, he continued to come in at least half an hour after we were supposed to be at work.
Another coworker told me that the one time she was late her annual evaluation was affected. Mr. Gates’ inconsistency bothered me for one reason: it was an example of the fact that none of us could trust him to match his actions to his words.
Consistency is hard
Often parents tell their children to do something and fail to follow through. An example that we often see in restaurants is a parent who says, “Sit down in your chair, or I will take you to the car.” The child stands in the chair again and nothing happens. I understand that parents are tired, and it’s difficult to stop visiting with other adults to make a child mind. In fact, there were times I failed to follow through with my own children. However, it is much easier to be consistent if we begin early.
Kids Know and Exploit Inconsistency
I know consistency is important because kids tell me about the inconsistency of parents and other authority figures: “I can always talk her out of grounding me.” “Why should I mind my mom when she doesn’t make my brother mind?” “Mrs. Smith said she’d get our tests graded by Friday, but she didn’t. How’s that different from my turning in an assignment late?”
Kids pay attention. It is only by doing what we say we will do that we teach kids to trust us. And when they trust us to be true to our word, they will more likely choose to be trustworthy themselves. Many parents never associate failure to follow through with teaching trust, but they are connected.
Think How Inconsistency Makes You Feel
You’ve probably found yourself in a situation where you could not trust a person in authority. Think about how you felt. Do you really want your kids to feel that way about you?
1Carole A. Bell, Birth to Seven Build a Strong Foundation, “Appendix A: Parenting BIG Ideas” p. 197, (Plainview, Texas: Bean Hill Press, 2015.