10 Days of Heart Parenting ~ Consistency and Consequences!

10 Days of Heart Parenting

Be sure to read yesterday’s post where I explain exactly what ‘Heart Parenting’ is.

The very first chapter in  The Christian Parenting Handbook is called… Consistency is Overrated!  THIS got my attention.  I don’t think there is a parent on this planet who hasn’t been told that if they would just consistently handle their child’s behavior everything will get better.  And I think every parent feels like a miserable failure at this consistency thing at one time or another.

The very very very first thing they taught me in college was that the key to changing behavior was consistency.  That was the mantra in every psychology class and every education class.  If behavioral change was desired you had to implement rewards and punishments with deadly, never ever ending consistency.

If a parent or teacher wants to decrease an undesirable behavior… like temper tantrums for example, then the only way to accomplish this is to dole out an exact punishment each and every time a temper tantrum occurred.  If you wanted even faster results then then you had to reward a child each and every time you witnessed him/her choose not to tantrum at a time when they typically would.

Doesn’t that just sound wonderful?  What a great way to nip tantrums in the bud.  A perfect formula. This is really just straight behavior modification which can be fantastic for training pets.  But as the author Scott Turansky points out right at the beginning of the book… God created people different from animals.  He gave each person a spiritual “heart,” and the heart affects the learning process.”  Yes, behavior modification might make a change in the short-term, but it won’t have the long lasting impact that takes place in the heart.

In the end, do I really want my children behaving the right way just to get that reward or avoid that punishment?  Or do I want them doing the right thing because in their heart they know it is the right thing to do?

When I was kid I had a friend who, looking back now I can see had parents who went out of their way to be super consistent as they raised him.  There were consequences for every bad action.  They called it “grounding.”  If he talked back, broke something, neglected chores, brought home bad grades… whatever, he was “grounded.”  That meant his access to video games and TV were cut off.  For more serious offenses he might miss outings or get togethers with friends.  The level of the crime dictated how long he was grounded for.  They started this tactic when he was 7 or 8.  By the time he was 12 or 13 being grounded had absolutely positively NO impact on him at all!  He frustrated his parents to no end because he stopped caring about the consequences.  Their consistency caused him to develop a resistance in his heart to their approach.  Over the years his behavior didn’t improve, it got worse!

In our home I have noticed that sometimes blind consistent consequences serve to only create bigger problems.  Right now my five year old is going through a phase.  He seems to be melting down over everything.  The attitudes he is tossing about leave me with headaches.  My instinct is to send him to bed.  You mouth off to me and you go to bed! That’s it, end of story.  But actually this rarely works.  It really just ups the ante and escalates the situation.  He’s yelling at me and I’m yelling at HIM.  Great example I’m setting here aren’t I?  How do we handle frustrations? We yell!  Not the message I want to send.

What does blindly  sending him to bed in my own fit of frustration going to teach him?  That when Mommy is mad he needs to go away?  That’s not really the message I want to send.  What I want him to learn is that his attitude and meltdowns can hurt other people’s feelings and that there are better and more productive ways to handle frustrations.

Following through blindly to be consistent with consequences is exhausting, it isn’t always doable (how do you put a child into timeout while out the grocery store anyway?), and it often leaves parents feeling exhausted and incapable.  Consistent consequences can even make things worse over the long wrong.

When you choose to focus on the heart in your parenting  what is even more important than consistency is creativity.  Because as the authors point out, children really do learn best through experiences, stories, activity, and modeling.

Today when my five year old had a fit because I wasn’t prepared to the project he wanted so badly to do I did not try to send him to his room.  I didn’t even get in a yelling match with him.  Instead, I called him out on his behavior.  I said “You and I both know you are giving Mommy a tantrum and a bad attitude here. Let’s get control of these and see what we can do to fix this problem.”  After a moment he stopped.  I got down to his level and I took his face in my hands.  I let him know that I knew he was mad at me.  I told him that now was his chance to calmly tell me why.  So he did.

His actions really hurt my feelings and I told him that.  I’ve been sick and I’ve been running around taking the kids to lots of different fieldtrips.  I’m even in the middle of building a coop for them so they can have a Lego class.  I didn’t get a chance to plan the project.  I explained that him.  I told him that his fit over the one thing Mommy didn’t get done really hurt my feelings.  I SHOWED him my hurt feelings on my face.  This got to him.  My little man gave me the biggest bear hug ever and tried to comfort ME!  He was GENUINELY sorry for his fit.  I think that was more powerful than a 5 minute timeout.

Don’t get me wrong.  It’s not always that easy.  Especially when I first tried parenting this way.  I found it was better to let him lay on the floor yelling and to come back when he had calmed down.  He assumed he was getting punished so he wouldn’t listen to me.

Does he still go to time-out?  Yes but not often anymore.  If he repeatedly does the same thing in the same day or if it’s just so blatantly wrong (like punching his brother in the head – yes it happens).  We do go straight for the bed.  Then once things have calmed down we talk it out and even practice better ways to behave.

Yep, I agree with the authors, Consistency can be highly overrated.  We do just fine applying the consequence only when truly necessary.





  1. (Confession I’ve skimmed this post but was struck with this thought and had to share). I think I’ve had a different view/understanding/definition of consistent. I would have classified myself as a parent who believed that the *method* of parenting was only 10% of parenting and the rest consistency. I think, if I understand what you’re saying (what the other says) is that really I think a parent needs to not be a hypocrite. I really wasn’t thinking so much of consistent consequences but more of a constancy in values. Maybe. Just maybe. I’ll have to read this book.

  2. I guess I wonder why kids from my grandparents generation (I’m probably double your age) were well-behaved, hard working and respectful. I doubt that their parents were that “creative.” And yes, the world is soo very different, but I think the principals of good parenting are still the same as ever they were. Good food for thought.

  3. I like the idea of the creative parenting. I am currently struggling with a hormonal 13 year-old, and the harsh discipline doesn’t feel right in my heart for her. I like the talking it out and reaching her heart perspective, but–oh, it’s all just so tiring sometimes, isn’t it?

  4. I am loving this series! I completely agree with consistency being overrated. I try to simply judge each situation for what it is, and make a decision based on that. Because truly…THEIR heart is not the same each time either! 😉

  5. I have not read the book so I am at a disadvantage. I don’t think consistency is overrated. I don’t think consistency is used enough in parenting. You can show grace, mercy and compassion when disciplining your child but that doesn’t negate consistency.

    • Sharon I think you missed the point. Perhaps I should go back and clarify. You can consistently apply rewards and punishments all day long for 18 years of parenting. But if you never address the heart and build character then all you’ll have is an outwardly obedient child (at best – I actual argue that this strategy might eventually backfire and you’ll end up with a child who is immune to your discipline eventually) who isn’t motivated from within to be the upstanding, God fearing, self-sacrificing, Jesus loving, neighbor serving adult we all long to have.

  6. Interesting perspective. I also think it depends on the child. I have one where talking doesn’t matter – it’s actions that speak louder than words. I also have another where words work. There is no “one size fits all” method.

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