By Dr. Liz Matheis, Ph.D.
Nannease welcomes Dr. Liz as the guest writer of this important piece. Read more about her at the end of this article.
Parenting. It’s a tough journey. Not only are you adapting to children with different temperaments than your own, or even similar to your own, but then you are also reliving a great deal of your own childhood. That can be triggering the trauma, bad memories, or actually remembering the good ones, or any combination of this. Nice and predictable, huh?
Let’s take it one step further – and this is where it’s hard for me – let’s be able to set our needs to the side while parenting, providing rules, sticking to them (well, most of the time), managing sibling dynamics, and possibly even different parenting styles between you and your partner. That is, your energy level (or lack of it), the stress of your job, needing to come home and work a few more hours to catch up, having a cold, or being burned out and needing to reset. How about your children’s activities, a social life for you and your kids, and your relationship with your partner. Now, let’s take this one step further where you and your family are fortunate to be able to have the extra support of a Nanny. That’s another person in the mix!
What is consistency and why is it important?
Consistency is setting up a routine or rule in your home and then sticking to it every. single. time. Consistency is also your predictable response to your child’s actions (or lack thereof!). To give you perspective, imagine that your start time at work was not exactly a given. That is, sometimes you showed up at 9a and it was ok. Other days you showed up at 8:30a and it was frowned upon. And on another day, you came in at 10a, and it was all good. How would you know what time you are expected to be at your actual job? You wouldn’t. And you wouldn’t be able to predict your supervisor’s reaction and how that would reflect on your professional evaluation.
Now let’s take that home. Imagine that one day, when you were feeling somewhat energized, you look into your child’s bedroom and it looks like a bomb went off. Clothes, water bottles, shoes, and unmade bed, etc. Because you have the energy and the time, you go in and fold the clothes, put the water bottles into the garbage can, and make the bed. On another day, when you are feeling rushed or are drained from your day, you walk by the same room that’s in the same condition, but yet you call your child’s name loudly and express your frustration – “Why can’t you just put your clothes in the hamper or put them away? Why can’t you put your water bottles into the garbage? Get over here and clean your room!”
That’s unpredictable. Your expectations are unpredictable and so is your reaction. Your child will either learn to ignore you and wait until you’re in a better mood when they can return to a clean room (courtesy of you!), ignore you entirely, or become anxious because he is not exactly sure how you will react today. It doesn’t mean that your child will now be motivated to clean his room because of your unpredictability, but rather will sit with the uncertainty of your reaction.
Set up your expectations on a schedule and stick to it
Let’s stick with the tidy room expectation. If this is important to you, perhaps you should set up a day and time when the family at large can organize their space. That may mean you with the kitchen or your own bedroom, and for the kids, it’s their bedrooms and perhaps the playroom. Setting up a day for this means that you don’t expect that these spaces will be tidy on a Wednesday when clean up day is Saturday afternoon. That puts you and your children at ease.
The same goes for chores. If you expect your child to empty the dishwasher or take out the garbage, set up a time by which you would like that completed. For example, there may be a 7p deadline. This will take away your need to ‘remind’ your child, which is annoying for both you and your child. It also builds in a little bit of accountability. Want to give an incentive? If chores are not completed by 7p, credit for that chore will not be given. However, it is important that you and/or your Nanny check in at 7:05p with your crew on the days you’ve designated each time.
With that said, set up a schedule for checks in with chores or routines that is easy for you to maintain. As parents, we sometimes feel the urge to do something every day, but that may not be realistic given your or your family’s schedule. If 3 days per week for check ins is do-able, then stick with it.
Now let’s talk about routines, which are a daily thing. If you or your Nanny want to start your bedtime routine at 7p or 7:30p, then set an alarm on your phone or IPAD to begin the process at that time each day. Use technology and gadgets to help you to the schedule you wish to maintain. Likewise, if you would like you child to come home from school at 3p and start homework at 3:30p, set an alarm and let that be your routine daily.
Your (or your Nanny’s) response to your child’s behavior also needs to be consistent. Meaning, if you do not want your children to engage with electronics for more than one hour daily, then stick to that expectation as well. It doesn’t mean that your child won’t ask for more, but if your response is consistently a ‘no’, then your child will learn that they are not going to gain more time. However, if you say ‘yes’ sometimes, and ‘no’ other times, this is what is called intermittent reinforcement and it will make your child’s behavior more resistant to change.
If you wish to change the routine or your expectation because it is a special occasion, holiday or birthday, then make that announcement. That is, you are making a change intentionally to the routine or expectation because of “X”. This way, it doesn’t feel unpredictable to your child but rather they understand that you are allowing the change based on your discretion and intention.
Parenting is one of the toughest, most relentless, yet gratifying jobs that exists. To make it through this journey, remember to be aware of your needs and state of mind so that they do not cloud your judgment when you are trying to maintain consistency in your home. Consistency creates a sense of safety in the world that you and your children need. Set realistic expectations so that you can be consistent each day, and each day will be increasingly more peaceful in your home.
Dr. Liz Matheis is a licensed clinical psychologist and certified school psychologist who specializes in assisting children and their families with Autism, ADHD, Anxiety and learning/behavioral disorders in Lake Hiawatha, NJ. She and her team offer a variety of services including play and art therapy using Cognitive Behavioral Therapeutic techniques that serve our children and their families.
At present, Dr. Liz is a contributor to a number of popular press magazines, radio and blogs, where she is able to provide real-world, pragmatic solutions to complex problems. To learn more, visit her website, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or call 973 400 8371.