Two pieces of common parenting advice—use consistent rules or pick your battles? Learn how to be flexible but reliable when dealing with your child.
My son knew not to climb on the couch. But right when I needed it the least, he pulled himself up on to the arm chair, oblivious to the rules. I felt my patience draining and wanted to ignore his defiance to save your sanity. But a thought nagged in my head to follow consistent rules and implement consequences.
Consistent rules or pick your battles — which to pick?
When you say pick your battles isn’t that conflicting with being consistent with your child? If you let them get away with drawing on the wall one day and take their currency away from them the next, isn’t that confusing and compounding the problem? Don’t children thrive on knowing that those boundaries are always in place? I realize a colored wall is better than a beaten child and would never argue that. I’m not criticizing, I really want to know where the professionals stand on this issue as it has always been 2 very different yet common pieces of advice.
She nailed it when she said that the two are different yet common pieces of advice. On one hand, a lax parent who doesn’t hold his ground isn’t taken seriously after a while by his kids. At the library, I heard a lady scold her grandchild, “If you throw that toy one more time, we’re leaving.”
A minute later, the kid threw the toy, but the grandma didn’t follow through with her rules. Both continued to stay at the library. You need consistent rules if you want your kids to learn the consequences of their actions.
But then you have the other scenario. Take a child who isn’t budging to eat his dinner unless he has his toy with him. Never mind that toys aren’t allowed at the table. You’re on your last nerve, and you’re about ready to throw all rules out the door just to keep the kids quiet for once. That scenario.
Define what is and isn’t negotiable. There’s the safety and hygienic reasons I’m sure we can all agree on. We need to buckle car seats and and change diapers, no matter how much kids protest.
But beyond that, each scenario presents a personal choice for each family. For instance, there’s no way my kid is going to draw on a wall. That kind of stuff drives me nuts. I like clean white walls, no matter how much my toddler throws a tantrum.
But I do know others whose kids draw on the wall and to those parents, it’s what saves them from going bonkers.
In other situations, I can be a bit more flexible, given the situation. We keep dinner times toy- and interruption-free.
The first thought I had was, “What if he’ll get confused about the rules because we’re not consistent? What if he assumes that throwing a fit will get him what he wants? Or worse, what if our authority is now undermined and he’ll defy future rules we try to impose?”
But sometimes my toddler really wants to have a toy in hand, so we decided that it’s not a huge deal at this moment.
Thankfully, bringing the toy to the table that one time did none of that. It may have even helped him learn that once in a while, even toddlers get to negotiate a bit here and there. I also think he forgets he brought the toy that one day, especially if we don’t make a big deal about it.
But here’s where I admit I falter a bit. I’ve changed the rules, sometimes often. We used to tell him he couldn’t open and close the linen cabinet doors because they’re too loud.
So what did I do when he opened and closed the doors as quietly as a cricket? I didn’t say anything—I let him open and close those darn doors. I suppose rules change as much as our kids do.
So far my toddler doesn’t push our buttons too often. That may just be his personality. Or maybe he understands which issues are an absolute no and which ones are a bit more flexible.
Either way, I balance standing my ground while allowing some flexibility. Especially when my toddler is having a bad day or we’re on our last nerve.
You want to be consistent, but not rigid. As authors Tina Payne and Dan Siegler write in No-Drama Discipline (affiliate link):
…[R]igidity is not about safety or reliability; it’s about stubbornness. It keeps parents from compromising when necessary, or looking at context and the intention behind a behavior, or recognizing the moments when it’s reasonable to make an exception.
That was generally my response to Carolyn (albeit much shorter!) but as I told her, I was curious to see how other parents handle this difficult situation. So:
What do you do when consistency and flexibility conflict in your home? What issues in your home do you set absolute boundaries on, and what are more flexible? Do you let your kids “win” certain issues, or do you stick to consistent rules? Why?
I won’t be surprised to find varying answers to this conundrum. As Carolyn wrote at the end of our conversation:
Parenting is so complex and I’m not sure there are any hard and fast rules.
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Get more tips about consistent rules and being flexible:
- The Difference between Rules and Responsibilities
- Positive Parenting Resolutions You Can Actually Keep
- Parenting Tip: Be More Carefree
- THIS Is Why Your Child Is Testing You
- Top Parenting Books All Moms Should Read