Have you ever been upside down in a car? Not like your car rolled over while you were in it, but owing more on your car than the car is worth. This is know as negative equity and can even lead to negative amortization in which you owe more and more because the interest keeps increasing while your car’s value keeps decreasing.
These concepts can help illustrate how parenting styles without consistency can lead to more and more problems. I heard recently that not having consistency with your children is like having negative equity in parenting. This is because your child/teen needs to know that the same result will happen every time they do something, whether it is a good choice or a bad choice. Every time the result from the same behavior is different, they learn either they can’t rely on you in that situation or they can manipulate a given situation to get a desired result.
A common way this scenario happens is when parents divorce or separate and the parents have different parenting styles. If one parent is inconsistent in how they enforce rules, the child is often able to manipulate the situation, being able to not have consequences for negative behavior (or rewards for positive behavior). This inconsistency can lead to anxiety, since the child does not know what to expect from a given situation. The child often enjoys not having consequences for their actions, but they also like to be rewarded for good behavior!
When children are not held to consequences for their actions, they are learning that they can get positive results from negative behavior. After years of inconsistency, it becomes very difficult for the child/teen to learn that they negative behavior leads to negative consequences. The bigger problem is that the child mistakenly believes that they will not have consequences for their actions in school and later in life.
One of my favorite quotes by James Dobson, a Christian child psychologist is that children are done no favors by not experiencing consequences for their actions. We all have rules in life we have to follow. We have to follow rules at work as well as following the law. Not understanding that actions have consequences result in a snowball effect that leads to more and more problems. While our kids don’t have to know about negative equity, they still already understand consistency. How many times do we hear “That’s not fair!” when siblings are playing? We all understand that the same rules should apply to everyone, especially when others aren’t experiencing the same consequences we are!
As a side note, grace can be given in certain circumstances. Rewards can be earned back for good behavior, and one “slip up” once in a while can be overlooked. Second chances can be given, as long as they are the exception and not the rule.