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Providing Consistency for Your Child in the Face of Uncertainty

September 11, 2020

Consistency is one of the most important and essential components of effective child rearing. In the begin to ECSEL program, caregivers are taught that consistency with children means purposely choosing how you are going to engage with or respond to them, and not varying in that course of action over time. Being consistent means to follow through with what we say we will do – while also ensuring that what we say and what we do is the same. For example, consistently choosing to calmly discuss issues rather than raising your voice will teach your child that you are someone who is approachable and calm in the face of conflict. For children, the learning process involves guidance through modeling, internalization, rehearsal, and repetition. This in turn promotes internalization – the process involved in making something their own. When caregivers are consistent in their reactions and consequences, children will be able to predict how you will respond to various situations and will therefore feel safer and be better able to adjust their behaviors accordingly. Of course, this does not mean they will not try to push your buttons from time to time, but that is the natural process of testing boundaries, and the more consistent you are in those moments, the safer your child will feel. But in times of unprecedented uncertainty how do we ensure our children are learning these important concepts? The answer is to maintain as much consistency as possible while also introducing and modeling the concept of flexibility.

Some ECSELent Tips:

  1. Consistently discuss emotions in the heat of the moment. Inconsistency can be very confusing for children and can even cause anxiety and hostility. Being a caregiver is exhausting and, at times, very frustrating. In the more frustrating moments, we are all tempted to take a short cut. Many of us have experienced the frustration of telling your child to put on their shoes multiple times to no avail, only to finally give in and put the shoes on for them instead. These moments will definitely happen, but it’s the discussion around these moments that are so important. Be honest with your child in that moment. Tell them that their behavior is frustrating you and you would be so proud if they were able to put their shoes on themselves. Also recognize that the reason they may be having difficulty is that they too are experiencing frustration. By identifying this shared emotion, you can deepen the bond with your child and discuss how this emotion makes you feel. Consistently validating their feelings in the heat of the moment can reduce the experience of similar frustrations in the future and set a precedent for emotional discussion instead.
  2. Empower your child with choices. When caregivers are inconsistent about the amount of choices they provide, it can be confusing and frustrating for a child. Taking away choices can often further the power struggle with children leading to an increase in the very frustration you are trying to avoid. Giving children choices allows them to take responsibility and feel more in control. Allowing children to choose what to wear, which task to complete first, or what snack to include in their lunch box are some examples of easy choices you can present them. Consistently providing simple choices allows children to learn that they have some autonomy in their experiences.
  3. Be open about changes to the routine. More important than ever, we must also equip children with the ability to handle change in routine. In 2020 we have seen schools shut down mid-year, the enforcement of mask-wearing in all public spaces, social distancing and much more. All of these changes felt heavy and strange to us adults, but to children they may have felt even more daunting. 2020 has provided a masterclass in flexibility and these are lessons that we should certainly be passing on to our children. The best way to do this is to model flexibility yourself and to discuss changes in open, honest, age-appropriate ways. Preparing your child for change is the best thing you can do to help them feel safe and secure. Even small changes in routine can be preempted with a conversation. For example, if your child usually spends Thursday night with grandma, but she is unavailable, give your child advance notice and explain the situation. This is also a wonderful time to tie in tip 2, providing choices. If grandma is busy, ask your child what they would like to do during that time instead. What if you don’t know the change is coming, like when the pandemic hit in March? Prepare your child to be flexible by saying that sometimes things happen with little notice, but we can always adjust and come up with new ways to cope. Consistently assuring children that you are a safe and secure anchor when the world feels chaotic is key.
  4. While our routines may seem ever-changing, it is important to try to keep to as much of a ‘normal’ routine as possible. This tip is the most straight-forward, but also the most difficult to maintain – especially in such mercurial times. Maintaining a routine, even a looser, more flexible one gives children the consistency they crave and need for healthy development. Something as simple as sitting down for a family meal each day can create a feeling of stability and calm. Introducing an element of fun into the routine (like movie time, outdoor play or pretend play) will also bring some joy to the day-to-day while allowing you and your child to let loose and bond in the face of so much unpredictability.

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