If you say it, mean it, and if you mean it, follow through.We teach kids our words have meaning by how we follow through to make our words happen. On this tool card, Jane Nelsen says that kids know when you mean it and when you don't.
The National Center for Biblical Parenting has a series of blogs on the Action Point. The Action Point is the moment when follow through to make our words happen, the moment when we expect our kids to comply. Kids know when we mean it and when we don't because we give them cues, either intentionally or unintentionally. Unintentional cues could be repeating our instructions over and over again until we get angry or yell. When we do this, our kids learn that they don't have to cooperate until we are angry or yell. Intentional cues could include using the child's name, using the word "now," or announcing that we are about to give them an instruction they need to obey. Then we follow through by making sure the instruction is followed or the end result is achieved.
Of course, not every interaction calls for obedience so not every interaction calls for this kind of immediate follow through.
For example, C spent almost an hour in the bathtub this morning. She was having fun and it wasn't critical to us that she get out at any particular time. So, after she had been in for a while, we suggested she let the water out. She said she was still playing. After more time had passed, we asked if she was ready to get out. She wasn't, so she stayed in. It wasn't important, so we didn't push the issue. No command was given and there was no expectation for obedience.
But eventually DH wanted to use the bathroom for his own shower. So, he told her it was time to get out.
He followed through by reaching into the tub and pulling up the drain cover. As the water drained, he got down the towel and wrapped her up in it. He then guided her to the bedroom and helped her get dressed. When it mattered, he followed through to make his words have meaning.
The concept of follow through is also important for enforcing boundaries. As parents, we can decide what we will do and inform our children of our decisions. Jane Nelsen gives the example, "I will read a story at 8:00 if pajamas are on and teeth are brushed." If kids aren't in pajamas and teeth aren't brushed, then the parent follows through by not reading a story that night, but offers the encouragement that the child can try again the next day.
Consistency is important, of course, but so is judicious use of flexibility. Wise parents will know when to make exceptions or be humble enough to recognize when they need to change their mind. When exceptions must be made or you do change your mind, telling your child you have chosen to make an exception and explaining the reasons behind that choice reinforces your authority as the parent.