Working Together – The Importance of Consistency in Parenting

So you’ve had a good hard think about how to parent your child…

You’ve figured out when to draw the line with discipline … and when it’s time for a good ol’ fashioned cuddle.

BUT … what if your partner disagrees? What if your opposite number has a very different way of going about things? Does it matter?

Should you just continue on your merry way, doing things the way you see fit? Or should you go through the (sometimes difficult) process of trying to get both parties on the same page?

Not surprisingly, research clearly shows that it is not only important for an individual parent to have a consistent approach over time, but it is also important for two parents to be consistent with each other.

Why Parenting Consistency is Important

Can you imagine how confusing it is for a child when their parents are constantly moving the goalposts?

One day mum lets them watch TV for 2 hours, while the next day she becomes angry after the TV has only been on for 15 minutes… Mum says it’s okay to leave the table without finishing your vegies but dad insists that every last pea must be swallowed…

As you can see, being consistent is just as important as the style of parenting that you opt for.

Here are some reasons why consistency is so important:

  • Teenagers (and younger kids!) can learn to use inconsistent parenting styles to their advantage – playing each parent off against the other, or using examples of inconsistent parenting as a reason for pushing the boundaries.
  • Differences of opinions between parents on how to discipline and nurture their children can lead to marital conflict! (More on this below.)
  • Poor parental ‘internal consistency’ (when a parent is inconsistent with their own approach from day-to-day) can cause children to develop attachment issues. They could find it difficult to see you as a reliable source of comfort and there can be little predictability or structure. Poor attachment can be associated with a range of social, behavioural and emotional problems for children.
  • Lack of consistency can mean parents are questioning their own decisions and are less likely to follow through with rules.
  • Very different parenting styles between a couple can lead to a “good cop/bad cop” situation where children can tend to gravitate towards one parent for nurture and warmth and demonise the other parent.

The Link With Marital Conflict

Another good reason to work on consistent parenting strategies is that disagreements about these issues can be a major source of marital tension. And parental conflict (for whatever reason) is strongly linked to a range of negative behavioural, social and psychological outcomes for young people.

There is often a ‘spillover’ from marital issues into negative parenting styles. (Possibly because parents are spending so much of their energy focusing on marital issues, they don’t have the mental and emotional resources to effectively and consistently deal with discipline and caring for their children.)

Conflict between parents also acts as a poor model for children and can teach them ineffective ways of managing difficult situations.

Discuss Your Parenting Approach With Your Partner

Sit down with your partner and discuss the issues in this parenting issues checklist (select those issues that are relevant for the age of your child).

For example, you could discuss:

  • What is our stance on this?
  • What are the consequences for not complying with rules?
  • What are the rewards for good behaviour?
  • Should we be flexible or steadfast on this issue?
  • How can we communicate our rules about these matters to our kids AHEAD OF TIME?
  • Is one parent in particular responsible for dealing with this issue?
  • What are some possible problems/downfalls with our approach?
  • What are the benefits of our approach?

A myriad of other issues also exist when parents are separated but consistency is still very important. The Raising Children website has some useful information on how to manage the pitfalls of raising a child with your ex-partner.

Still Stuck?

If you have tried some of the above strategies and found that you and your partner are still not on the same page, you might benefit from some professional support. A psychologist who is experienced in working with children and parents can help you and your partner to address some of the underlying reasons for the disagreements and to work towards effective solutions.

References

Checklist: Adapted, with permission, from Robin AL, Foster SL. 1989. Negotiating Parent-Adolescent Conflict: A Behavioral-Family Systems Approach. New York, NY: Guilford Press.

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