How can we best set our children up for success and provide them the best learning environment? That answer always will be “consistency.” Children thrive on consistency and predictability. They learn what to expect, and what is expected of them.
Children need lots of practice to independently incorporate and actually learn a new skill. It can take a child between 30 to 200 attempted trials before mastering a skill, depending on the difficulty of task and the environment.
How can we best set our children up for success and provide them the best learning environment? That answer always will be “consistency.”
Children thrive on consistency and predictability. They learn what to expect, and what is expected of them. They find comfort in sameness. They request the same story, over and over, learning the characters, the story line, the visual clues, until they know it well enough to move on to their next favorite book. They request the same food day after day, because there is great comfort in knowing the taste and texture. After months of only eating mac and cheese, we might buy a few cases, (or consider investing in stock) and then they are ready to move on to the next taste test sensation.
Inconsistency brings confusion, anxiety, chaos and an open door for limit testing. It’s the limit testing that wears us down, but that is how a child learns. They ask, we answer. They do, we respond. It is our consistent answer or response that teaches them to understand how things work, so they accept, incorporate, internalize and move on.
When we are inconsistent, they try to figure it out through multiple attempts to see if they will get the same answer. They need to test the boundaries to learn the rules. They cry or tantrum out of confusion.
Setting limits and being consistent is a positive way to parent. Although sometimes difficult, it is a true gift when we say what we mean, mean what we say, but don’t say it mean.
You can minimize resistance and tantrums, and also increase the frequency of desired behaviors, by using The Three Ps.
- Present the information: The information is the new skill. Whether it is an abstract or a concrete skill, teach it over and over with patience. Present the information with consistency and predictability, step by step. Be sure your expectations are realistic and age-appropriate.
- Provide the opportunity: Provide continuous opportunity, perhaps in different environments, at different times of the day, even with different people teaching the skill. Approach it as if you are a teacher, which you are. The more opportunity a child has, the faster he will learn.
- Praise the behavior: All efforts should be verbally and physically recognized, with a gentle, connective touch. If you think of how we might train a puppy to learn to sit, it may be easier to understand how children learn. First, we give the puppy a verbal command, such as “sit.” At the same time, we teach what sit means by gently pushing the puppy’s behind down. Next, we say “good dog for sitting,” pat the dog on the head and give the dog a bone.
Presenting the same information while providing multiple opportunities — with praise for good results — will result in the puppy learning to sit. Why then do we forget to praise our children after they have mastered a skill?
- Don’t change the rules, expecting something one day, and allowing the opposite the next day.
- Don’t reward bad behavior by giving in to a tantrum. Stay cool and teach the lesson.
- You are your child’s most powerful teacher.
Diana Boggia, M.Ed., is a parenting educator in Stark County, Ohio. Send your child-rearing questions to FamilyMatters@cantonrep.com or The Repository, c/o Family Matters, 500 Market Ave. S, Canton OH 44702.