You have said that consistency is a big part of good discipline, but if I were consistent with my 8-year-old son, I’d be disciplining him constantly.
A law of discipline says: The more consistent you are, the less you have to discipline. At first look, this doesn’t make sense. But let’s look deeper using an example and some numbers. Imagine your son likes to argue. For most parents of 8-year-olds, this isn’t a stretch. His words are expressions of feelings; they are designed to pull you into dead-end debates over rules and responsibilities. You’ve decided to curtail this with a new rule: “Whenever I hold up my hand, that means the discussion is over. If you argue one more word, you’ll sit in your room for 15 minutes.”
Now, let’s say prior to this rule he averaged four arguments a day. And you averaged disciplining him (sending him to his room, denying a privilege, etc.) about one time a day when you’d had enough or wearied of debate. The rest of the time you tried to argue him quiet, ignored him until he cracked your resolve or yelled in frustration. If this hypothetical is close to reality, don’t feel too bad. Many parents go this route.
Once the rule kicks in, he will conceivably spend one hour or more per day in his room until he learns to heed hand signals. However, after a few weeks of your being consistent, he becomes less argumentative and has to visit his room once every few days. Initially he did need discipline more often, but after a while, he actually brought less discipline upon himself.
Consistently applying your rule led to more peace, too. Before the rule there were no predictable consequences, so the child argued more and more, leading to more frustration for both of you — and ultimately more discipline because the arguments weren’t going away.
Kids may lack self-control, but they are smart. They know when we mean what we say and won’t test our limits nearly so much. The result is less time spent on discipline and more time spent enjoying each other’s company.
The worry that consistent discipline will lead to constant discipline can be answered this way: If you mean you’ll be constantly talking, re-reminding, negotiating and threatening, then I agree with you. But talk is not discipline. Words alone only lead to more words, which usually lead to more and harsher emotions. When discipline is action, consistency leads to less action because you’re teaching and just not talking.
Dr. Ray Guarendi is a clinical psychologist, speaker, author and EWTN TV host.