How to Make Your Discipline Consistent as a Parent

No matter which of the five main types of discipline you use, it won’t work if you aren’t consistent. Consistency is one of the more important keys to addressing child behavior problems. Consistently setting limits, giving effective consequences and enforcing the rules all day every day can be tough, however. Examine what gets in the way of being consistent and take steps to increase your discipline consistency.


Establish House Rules

Get your child involved in creating your list of household rules.

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Establish house rules so that you can consistently respond to unacceptable behavior. A written list of rules ensures that kids are clear about what is expected of them. When you make exceptions to the rules, announce it ahead of time. For example, say, “Even though bedtime is usually at 8 since next week is school vacation you can stay up an extra hour.” This shows kids that there can be planned exceptions to rules and that you’re in charge of deciding when those exceptions should take place.


Provide Structure

Kids do best when they have structure and it will make it easier to discipline consistently.

Incorporate healthy habits as part of their daily routine and kids will be aware of what you expect from them.

Establish a schedule that sets aside specific time to do certain tasks. Younger kids need consistency with nap times and mealtimes. Older kids benefit from a schedule to remind them of when to do homework, complete chores and take care of other responsibilities.


Develop a Plan

It’s easier to be consistent when you have a clear plan about what negative consequences you’ll use to deal with misbehavior. Be prepared with logical consequences, time out, or active ignoring depending on the behavior. Also, consider positive reinforcement for good behavior, such as a reward system or token economy system.


Work With Other Caregivers

When possible, establish consistent rules and consequences among caregivers and environments. If the teacher, daycare provider, and extended family are all on board, it can help change behaviors fast. For kids whose parents are divorced, it’s best when both households use similar rules and consequences. Talk to other caregivers about developing a behavior plan to address specific problems.


Pay Attention to Your Moods

A parent’s temperament is a big factor in discipline. When you’re feeling tired or stressed you’re likely to discipline a little differently. While some parents might have less patience for behaviors, other parents might feel too tired to address them. Pay close attention to your moods and put in the extra effort to respond to behavior problems consistently, despite how you’re feeling.


Follow Through with Consequences

Repeated threats can certainly make discipline inconsistent. If you find yourself repeating instructions over and over or making threats without following through, it’s likely your children have learned to tune you out.

It’s essential that parents mean what they say as it builds credibly. If a child knows you mean business, he’ll listen the first time.

Follow through with consequences and don’t just make threats as you’ll be training your child not to listen to you.


Choose Your Battles Wisely

If you want to be consistent, you’ll need to choose your battles wisely. If you have too many rules or too many consequences, it’s impossible to keep it all straight. If you’ve got a child with lots of behavioral issues, choose to address the most problematic behaviors first. Try not to get after him about every little thing and you’ll avoid power struggles that can lead to inconsistent discipline.


Resist the Urge to Give In

Inconsistency can stem from giving in when kids whine, beg or promise to be good. If you’ve taken away a privilege don’t give it back until the allotted time has been reached. Most of the time, removing a privilege for 24 hours is sufficient. If you give it back early because your child talks you into it, you’ve taught him that whining, begging, or attempting to negotiate is a great way to get what he wants.


Expect Change to Take Time

Behavior changes won’t happen overnight so don’t give up on your discipline techniques too early just because it didn’t work yet. It takes time for a child to realize that every single time he misbehaves, you’re going to follow through with a consequence. Often, kids will press their luck in hopes that you’ll forget or you’ll give up.

If you’re consistent each and every time, your child will eventually learn to change his behavior.


Focus on the Long-Term

One of the four biggest discipline mistakes parents often make is not looking far enough into the future. Although giving in or letting behavior problems slide might make your life a little easier right now, in the long-term, it will make things worse. Keeping your focus on the long-term goals will help you to remember that your child doesn’t need to be happy right now but instead needs to learn the six life skills necessary to become a healthy, responsible adult.

By Amy Morin, LCSW
Amy Morin, LCSW, is the Editor-in-Chief of Verywell Mind. She's also a psychotherapist, an international bestselling author of books on mental strength and host of The Verywell Mind Podcast. She delivered one of the most popular TEDx talks of all time.