15.1 Three C’s: Consistency
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THREE C,s: Consistency, Criticism,
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15 THREE C’s: Consistency, Criticism,
Once we learn how to build a house, we follow the same steps and use the same tools to build other houses. The type of house we build might be different, but the basic elements of the blueprint and the tools we use to build it are the same. If we make a mistake, we try to correct it, learn from it, and get back on track. Once we succeed in building different parts of our house, we have greater confidence as a builder. We have to work hard, however, to keep believing in our abilities when we make mistakes, something doesn’t turn out right, or someone criticizes our work. At times like these, it is helpful to know how to respond without getting defensive and see if there is any value in the comment.
Once parents have a plan for their parenting, they want to follow the same basic steps using the same types of tools. The individual problems or specific tools they select, however, may vary. Mistakes and ineffective responses will naturally happen. Rather than trying to prove “I’m right,” parents can correct the mistake, make amends, and learn from the mistake. The confident parent maintains consistency as much as humanly possible, getting back on track quickly, and handles criticism assertively and respectfully.
IN THIS CHAPTER
The Three C’s help us maintain our personal progress with three important ideas:
- True consistency means we stick with our parenting plan and get back on track when we stray. It also means we handle problems the same way in public and around others as we do at home.
- When others criticize our parenting methods or we need to deal with adult “misbehavior,” we can use our new tools to respond to adults, too.
- It can be difficult to maintain our confidence as a parent and person, but there are specific attitudes and actions we can use to continue on the positive path we are now on.
WHEN TO USE THE THREE C’S
We use the tools in this chapter constantly, but especially when we feel discouraged or under pressure to stray from our parenting plan. The tools we’ve learned are helpful in all relationships, not just with children, so we can begin taking our skills to a higher level. We can return to this chapter (and the rest of the book) as a reference guide anytime in the future—for a quick review, an extra boost of confidence, or for help in solving a problem.
INCREASING OUR CONSISTENCY
Children need parents who are consistent. When parents have consistent responses, no matter where or when, children know what to expect if they misbehave. Effective parents work to increase their consistency, but also accept their limitations. It’s not humanly possible to always be consistent.
The Myth about Consistency ☆☆☆☆
Many people think, “If I said I was going to do this, I have to follow through,” and follow this motto even when they make a poor choice or overreact. This is not true consistency. True consistency is
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staying on the same path or getting back on it when we stray. When we realize we’ve made a mistake, we can get back on track and model for children how to handle mistakes with this four-step process:
- Admit that we made a mistake.
- Apologize for any hurt feelings that resulted from the mistake.
- Learn what we can from the mistake. Make changes to correct the mistake or avoid it in the future.
- Work with our children on a fairer solution.
When children are at school all day long, they often put a lot of effort into “being good.” When they come home, they may not put as much effort into controlling their behavior. Parents often do the same thing. When we interact with other people’s children, we have the patience and tact to handle their misbehavior respectfully. We might be yelling at our children, but if we run into someone we know, we immediately put on our smile and talk nicely to them and our children. This is proof that if we make a conscious choice, we can handle stressful, pressure situations. While we can’t always be alone or have a constant audience, we can “trick” ourselves into behaving as though we do.
A Personal Story. Several years ago, there was a television news special about spanking. They took several sets of parents who believed in spanking and followed them around for a month with a video camera. They showed some very upsetting incidents that bordered on abuse. Tears came to my eyes for the children involved.
Next, they had an expert in family violence research (my focus area in college) sit with this group of parents to explain why spanking wasn’t good. He knew his statistics well on what didn’t work, but only told the parents, “Don’t ever spank. Do something like time-out instead.” He didn’t even give them guidelines for effective time-outs!
Then they showed these families six months later. One or two of the families had stopped spanking and were being respectful. Several were using time-outs instead of spanking, but were using them in humiliating ways to exert their power. Several said nothing else worked and had returned to spanking. Considering the advice they got, I wasn’t surprised! You can’t take a tool (even an ineffective one) away from someone, without exchanging it for a more effective tool and giving specific directions for its use.
Soon after that report, Amber had a really bad day. No matter what I did, she would whine, fuss, and begin to throw a tantrum. I stayed on track pretty well, but by dinner time I was pressured and hungry, and my brain cells were running on empty. Things escalated to the point that I was trying to make her sit in a time-out chair and she was trying to kick me. As I tried to grab her legs to stop her kicking, I had an almost uncontrollable urge to spank her. At that instant, I thought about the parents in the television report. I thought, “What would I do if the TV cameras were watching me right now?” I pulled myself together and started talking to Amber respectfully and calmly! I was amazed that I could do it! “If I can pull myself together for a camera (or a neighbor),” I thought, “I can do it at other times, too.” Now, when I think I’m about to “lose it,” I imagine a television camera is filming me, with all my students watching. It never fails to help me pull out that extra effort to do what I know I can do.
If you are like me and having an audience helps you stay on track, just imagine “everyone is watching.” If, on the other hand, you feel pressured thinking about people watching you and cave in, imagine that you have blinders on. You are the only person there and no one is watching or judging your performance. Neither of these has to be true. They are simply ways to bring out in ourselves what is already there—a competent parent with a helpful response.
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MISBEHAVIOR IN PUBLIC
When other adults are watching our interaction with misbehaving children, we often think they are judging us on how well we handle the situation. We may use punishment to satisfy the spectators, since it appears to achieve the quickest results. It takes great courage to think clearly during these pressured times to achieve the most effective long-term results.
If we use one method of parenting at home and another outside the home, children learn there are times when they can get away with misbehavior and test us more often. If we use the same parenting plan wherever we go, our children always know the limits and are better behaved.
If we are somewhere new or anticipate a problem, we can plan ahead (Prevention Toolbox). We explain what we will be doing, what behavior we expect, why that behavior is important, and reveal discipline. Then we follow through, ignoring others and staying on track. If we need to discipline in public, we can go to a private place or whisper in their ear if we can’t leave. (Empty aisles and back corners of stores can offer a quiet, private place to talk.) We can avoid feelings of embarrassment by reminding ourselves, “The only person who can make me feel embarrassed is me.”
FRIENDS AND EXTENDED FAMILY
Social gatherings and visits to other homes can be stressful. When children misbehave around friends or family, we often feel embarrassed and pressured to respond however they expect us to respond. We must remain firm to our long-term goals. If we give in, children learn they can get their way if they embarrass us in front of others. If we overreact and punish children, they feel confused and humiliated in front of a group. These are key motives for revenge, and further misbehavior is a good way to get that revenge. Consistently using effective parenting tools helps children learn self-control and self-discipline. When others criticize or interfere with our parenting, the best approach is to excuse ourselves and solve the problem with our children privately.
INCONSISTENT PARENTING PARTNERS
I often hear the comment, “When my husband (wife) is home, it’s his (her) rules. When I’m there, it’s my rules. When we are both there, the kids play us against each other. I’ve tried telling him (her) what I’ve learned, but he (she) just gets defensive. How can I make him (her) change?” The answer is, “You can’t.” That does not mean, however, that the two of you can’t have a consistent parenting plan, even if the plan includes different styles of parenting. In addition to the suggestions in the “Parenting as a Team” section in Chapter 2, there are several options available to parents.
- Agree on a plan for common problems that arise. Use the problem-solving and decision-making worksheets. Decide what each of you wants to accomplish and find a way to meet both parents’ concerns and needs. It is important to listen carefully to your partner and not immediately offer solutions or advice. You can offer information and observations, but don’t sound like a know-it-all or criticize your partner’s efforts. Offer encouragement and support to enlist your partner’s involvement in the solution.
- Agree not to sabotage each other. Even if a partner’s decision is imperfect, agree to either backup the partner or, at the least, not to interfere, even if you disagree. The parent who makes a decision is the one who has to follow through with the commitment and experience any consequences of that
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decision. Part of this agreement is that if a parent makes a poor decision, the other parent agrees not to say “I told you so.” Pointing out mistakes builds resentment and further divides parents. Simply allow the parent to learn from his or her mistake. This is still an imperfect plan, but one that is often workable until the parents iron out their differences.
- If the other parent’s style is not abusive or does not grossly violate the child’s rights, you can back off and not interfere. If the child’s feelings are hurt, acknowledge their feelings without taking sides or criticizing the other parent. (If your partner does physically, emotionally, or sexually abuse your child, you must have the courage to contact someone who can help: a counselor, child abuse prevention hotline, or in emergencies, the police.)
- Agree to disagree respectfully. If you disagree or argue in front of the children, do so respectfully and fairly. Screaming and yelling scares children. Do your part to calmly work out disagreements and model healthy problem solving. If you argue or disagree in front of children, it’s important to show them that you’ve made up and how you got there (from disagreeing to working together).
- If you choose to get involved, back up your partner with your skills. If we can figure out what our partners are trying to accomplish, we can model the effective skills we’ve learned. If it works, the partner feels supported, without feeling criticized.
If your parenting partner has not learned the skills in this book, the best attitude to take is, “Live it, don’t preach it.” No one likes to hear, “You’re supposed to do this. You’re not supposed to do that!” (And don’t use my name in vain either! “Jody says to do . . .”) Let your example speak for itself. Acknowledge your partner’s frustration and be reassuring that you know he or she is trying to make the best choice. They may have old “tapes” that are at the core of their onion and resolving their own issues may take time.
Most parents are interested in doing the best they can, but feel defensive if others present new ideas in a judgmental way. The tools we’ve learned are to help us improve ourselves and our families. Don’t use your knowledge to judge or impose advice when others haven’t asked for it. Many parents are enthusiastic about their new skills and want to “help” other parents by correcting them, but this isn’t helpful. The situation is their problem, not yours. We can support them with our skills or, if they are open to suggestions, ask helpful questions such as, “What do you want him to learn? Does he understand . . .? How do you think he’d react if you did . . .?” Never push your ideas on others.
Before you say anything, ask yourself, “What do I hope to accomplish by getting involved? Does the person seem open to discussing options?” Only say something if you can say it in a way that makes the person feel supported and better about themselves. Sandwich suggestions between compliments, “I noticed how well you . . . Have you ever considered . . . I’m sure you will . . .”
If you give information about child development or long-term consequences, use general non-judgmental words, “When children hear ___, they often think the parent means ___.” Avoid the words “you,” “right,” and “wrong.” Instead, use statements like “more effective” and “less effective” or “more respectful” and “less respectful.” These terms are less judgmental. You want to be sensitive without sounding superior.
When you are in public and see another parent in distress, offer a reassuring look and smile. You can sometimes offer them an extra hand, but don’t take over. Open the door or ask if they need help carrying packages, for example. If your motive is to be helpful, not critical (as though they can’t manage on their own), most parents will appreciate the support and understanding.
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A Personal Story. I don’t give parenting advice to others, unless they ask for it. It’s hard to know a better way to handle a situation and watch someone use ineffective parenting skills. Once, when I was in a store, there was a young mother with a newborn on her shoulder and a toddler in tow. The toddler was going beyond where she could see him. I remembered how hard those first weeks of adjustment were, after having a second child—juggling a newborn again, forgetting to watch the older child, etc. I smiled at her and gave her an “I understand” look. She looked tired and overwhelmed. She kept calling to her toddler, “Dawana! Dawana! Get back here! Stay with me,” but her toddler took advantage of his mother’s inability to catch him.
This mother and I ended up in the check-out line together. Her toddler was still running around. When she couldn’t see him, I told her where he was and what he was doing. She thanked me. When the toddler was near his mother, I bent down and said, “You know, if you stand right here in front of your mommy and give that toy to the lady behind the desk, your mommy will buy that for you. But you need to stand in front of your mom if you want to take it home.” This amazing bundle of energy stayed put! His mother thanked me as she left and I said, “Hey, I know what it’s like. We mom’s need to stick together.”
If we interact with other people’s children, make sure the parent is present and can see and hear us. Otherwise, the parent or child might worry that we are a “bad” stranger. We need to be cautious not to overstep our boundaries. Just be supportive and encouraging, modeling skills instead of preaching them.
A Graduate’s Story. I was at the playground when another mom come up to me and asked, “Where did you learn to talk like that?” This gave me a chance to tell her about the parenting class, without implying, “You aren’t a good parent, you need a parenting class.” The myth that parenting classes are for bad parents is so widespread, such a suggestion doesn’t come off well unless someone asks for more information. I’ve had several people ask me, “Why did you take a parenting class?” It gives me a chance to reinforce the value of learning as much as we can about any commitment or responsibility we take on — and my kids are one of my highest priorities in life. Why wouldn’t I learn as much as I can to be the best parent I can?
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