Children are much wiser than we often give them credit. They pick up on our moods, even when we think we’re covering them well. They are often able to read into what is being said, and they can tell when the “in charge” person means what he or she says. And that is the key to good parenting: mean what you say.
To be consistent means that the “rules” stay the same, time after time. If a consequence for an action is given, then there needs to be a plan to follow through when and if it is necessary.
Children are not perfect creatures. They will test limits, either because the temptation is too great or to simply see what the end result will be. Children learn from testing the limits and understanding consequences. When a consequence is given and there is no follow-through, children learn that rules are not really that important because there is no reaction to the violation of the rule. Actions speak louder than words, and this is certainly true with discipline in children.
This isn’t to say that children should be immediately punished when not following a rule. Say, for example, a child has been told to not climb on the furniture or he will have to sit in time-out. Depending on the age of the child (and the newness of the rule), warnings can be given. With my three year old, we have the Rule of Three. He is warned once, then twice, and then, like baseball, he’s “out” at the third strike. Again, it all depends on the age of the child and the newness of the rule. Also consider the severity of the action. Had my child been running out in the middle of traffic, warnings would definitely not be a factor. We’d skip straight to being “out”!
Children learn to do what we say when we follow through. By setting clear expectations and consequences, children will not only learn to behave and follow directions but will also feel more secure in their environment and in relation to what is expected of them.