As parents, we try to make our attitude towards children different from the one we know from childhood. Thanks to the latest research on the brain, we know today that iron discipline and authoritarian parenting methods based on adult authority adversely affect a child’s emotions, cognitive and social development, and family relationships. However, when we start to look at a child differently and communicate with it more gently, we often fear too lenient treatment and lack of consistency in upbringing.
Why the fears of inconsistency?
It has been said almost always that you have to be consistent with your children. We understand consistency as following certain rules that must be followed regardless of the circumstances in which we and our children find ourselves. Otherwise they will not learn good habits and regularity. They will think they are allowed to do anything. They will cease to be respectful of adults. However, will drawing consistency contribute to the development of important qualities and the cultivation of values?
How do we understand consistency?
In parenting, consistency is most often understood as not deviating from one’s opinion on a topic and adhering to the beliefs that arise from it. Being faithful to, and acting on, decisions made and announced in advance. Influencing the child’s behavior by various methods that are to lead to the expected result.
What is consistency and is NOT really?
A natural consequence is a consequence of something, some result. The natural result of the child not putting the blocks into the container after playing is that the blocks are lying on the floor. The consequence is not that if he does not clean them up, he will not be able to play something else or watch cartoons.
Such and similar actions are no longer a natural consequence of the event, but the use of force and advantage over the child in order to obtain a specific effect. They are a punishment which, according to an adult, is to teach a child responsibility, discipline, respect, meticulousness, and an attitude worth imitating.
Why are we afraid of inconsistency?
We often stick to drawing consequences out of fear that, as a result, the child will not want to act in accordance with our ideas or the applicable social norms. That he will stop taking us seriously and see no authority in us.
Inconsistency makes us feel guilty. We would like to be sure that we are good family leaders, and our approach to children and responding to their attitudes will teach them valuable life skills.
In fact, however, consistency understood as clinging to a once established rule and punishing a child for not following it does not work as we would like it to.
How does a child’s brain learn?
The results of research in the field of neuroimaging show that the effectiveness of learning in children decreases if they feel external pressure, they are threatened and punished. They learn best when no one forces them to learn, when they are heard and noticed by adults, calm and internally motivated to act.
Children learn primarily:
- In relation to us – by observation, imitation and action (repeated repetition);
- What is important and subjectively interesting to them;
- When they feel safe – hormones and neurochemical substances (including oxytocin, endogenous opioids, dopamine) are activated in the brain, which support the process of learning and remembering information;
- When they are rested (even if relatively) and full; then stress hormones (cortisol, adrenaline), which are at a lower level, do not block the secretion of dopamine, which is key in learning processes;
- When they can make mistakes; Researchers have shown that after a child makes a mistake, the so-called reward system, naturally motivating to do the same activity correctly;
- When they can work with people they are not afraid of and with whom they feel safe; that build relationships with them based on empathy, respect and trust.
Does drawing consequence teach and work?
Consequences do not support natural learning processes. It does not open the child to cooperation with us. It also does not support the proper development of his brain. The more stress hormones there are on a daily basis, the greater the risk of damage to sensitive structures in a child’s brain that determine its further development and physical, mental and emotional health for a lifetime.
In order to understand the mechanism of drawing consequences well, it is worth putting yourself in the shoes of a child and remembering the circumstances in which someone stronger and / or very important to us referred to us in an unpleasant way. When we received a harmful feedback, were we open to cooperation, to learning new and better attitudes? Or were we rather discouraged from contact and relationship with a person who was biased and unfriendly towards us? Did this person become an authority for us in the long run and did we turn to him willingly with our worries and difficulties, or did we avoid him for fear of unpleasant experiences?
Punishing and acting out of a position of strength teaches, among others:
- Avoiding open contact with someone who uses force against us;
- Using force against the weak and building a relationship based on fear;
- Avoiding punishment, and as a result searching for solutions that will allow someone to confuse, deceive, or act unfairly towards him;
- The fact that it is not worth trusting yourself and listening to your body and taking care of your autonomy, but you should always act in accordance with what others want;
- Violating your own boundaries and the fact that it is not worth following your feelings and needs, but it is worth adapting to the expectations of others, even if it does not help us and does not work in anything.
It is also worth asking ourselves, is it always the case that we act consistently towards ourselves? We should show ourselves more respect and gentleness, show our children how important it is to take care of themselves and adapt to the ever-changing needs.
Instead of saying, “Clean up toys immediately. If you don’t do that, you won’t get the fairy tale “, otherwise you can:
- I see a lot of toys on the floor and feel insecure when I trip over them. I wish I could feel safe.
- It is important to me that we can move freely here.
- Let’s see which toys you need now. We can clean them up together, do you want?
- Maybe we can build a container for bricks and throw them into it together.
- Can I help you somehow? I see that you are tired, why not lie down together for a while and start cleaning up soon?
Instead of saying, “You haven’t done your homework, so you won’t get a tablet to play today,” you can: “I can see that you have a hard time doing something. You are tired? Are you feeling discouraged? Can I help you with something? I want a quiet conversation.
We would like our children to be strong, well-organized, independent, independent, responsible and conscientious. That they would be able to say “no” and respect themselves, but also respect others. In order for this to be successful, they themselves need good role models. They need parents who do not uncritically follow patterns and stereotypical beliefs, but listen to themselves and make choices consistent with what they feel. Who, instead of giving long monologues, listen. Instead of punishing, they talk. They communicate their limits clearly, but also pay close attention to what is important at the moment. Is what happened yesterday still working.
Children need adults with whom they can feel involved, important and safe. Accepted and loved exactly as they are here and now.