Try your best. Give it everything you’ve got. Children sense dissonance from miles away. If we are not consistent with them, they will know just how easily it is to manipulate us. When we say “don’t” then let them get away with the very thing we’re saying no to, we eventually wake up to disaster. No wonder children begin to manipulate. If you say no, mean it. Follow through! You do this everyday and you will have children who will not only respect your word but will know how to be true to their word for the rest of their lives.
It’s not easy–for most hands-on moms this means literally getting up from your oh-so-comfortable chair (even if you just landed there at last) to make sure your child gets his own things from downstairs because you told him to do it himself, or puts his plate away because that’s the rule, or deposits the candy back in the bag because you already yelled at him not to eat it. But that’s what we have to do: get up and follow through. If our mouth is saying no but we let the children get away with the opposite, we are setting them up to be adults with major integrity issues. That’s how serious it is.
Inconsistency is also the fastest way towards discipline hell. Why will your child listen to anything you say when she knows she can do as she pleases? What authority will you have if you keep saying things you don’t mean? Because that’s what it boils down to in the end. If you’re saying something you don’t act on, you don’t mean it. It’s just empty words. What does it mean for a child to keep hearing empty words? I don’t think it’s far-fetched to assume that your child will learn to use words without respect; the child will learn that words do not matter. And that, to me, is a colossal disservice to any child.
Your words are not just words. They bring form and substance to your family life. Just think about how many relationships fall apart because of this casual behavior towards words. They are not just letters strung together. This is why children react when they hear adults utter inappropriate words. Really. Have you watched your child react? They freeze! It truly disturbs them because deep in their hearts they recognize the power of words. To a child, words are WORLDS! It is in a child’s nature to create and build everyday, the way they are building their bodies every second. As parents, we must strive to be models and co-creators, rather than “destroyers” of the essence of things. Following through on your every word is an act of building, not destroying. That is what gives our children much needed security. They feel secure in these boundaries of integrity we create around them. When we say something and do something else, we build then quickly destroy that which we built! They feel lost and untethered. The consequent rebellion, manipulation and misbehaving is nothing more than a desperate cry for boundaries and the need for that loving authority that gives them grounding in the world.
We owe it to our children to be worthy of imitation, to say what we mean, mean what we say and follow through. Each time we do this, we build a stronger and stronger inner life for our children. I see it as building firm moral ground for all they can become in adulthood.