Importance of Parental Consistency

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Why Consistency is Important

Consistency, n. steadfast adherence to the same principles; agreement or harmony among the parts of a complex thing

All parenting books talk about how consistency is critical. Examples are given to show the importance of helping children learn boundaries and limits. They talk about how consistency helps children to feel safe. And, how consistency helps them to learn cause and effect thinking. With older adopted children, consistent parenting is often even more critical than with younger adopted children, or with biological children.

Older adopted children often come from backgrounds that are inconsistent regarding food, rules, responses, and more. If they lived with their birth family, they may have been in an environment where parents were unable, due to drugs or alcohol, to provide a stable, consistent environment. If they lived in multiple foster families, their lives may have been filled with only short-term stability. If they lived in an orphanage, they may have had multiple caregivers, each enforcing various rules in various ways.

Lack of consistency means our children feel unsafe, are unsure of our expectations, and have poor cause and effect thinking. If they were hungry and cried, and one time they were given food, and one time they were yelled at, and one time they were closed in a closet, their brains are unable to clearly understand that certain behaviors and actions have certain reliable consequences. They will have trouble relating their own behaviors and choices to corresponding consequences.

When older adopted children come to live in their forever family, parents can help them become successful in life by being consistent in their rules and expectations. Being easy on them and letting them slide when it comes to rules will not help them. Show them that you're paying attention. Provide them with consequences for breaking the rules so that they're being well prepared for life. Help their brain learn to connect their behaviors and choices with related consequences.

Examples of consistency in rules and expectations:


In this family, we don't hit each other.
If your child hits, she should do restitution to the person she hit i.e. fold that person's laundry.


Everyone is expected to be ready to leave the house by 7:30 in the morning.
If your child isn't ready, they should have to do a chore for the family to make up for the trouble it caused.


Helmets are always to be worn when riding a bike.
If your child chooses to ride without a helmet, they don't ride for a week.

Implementing consequences for all infractions of rules can be challenging for parents. We're tired... We'll just let it slide this once... We don't want to be as tough as our own parents were… Our child is nagging us to be lenient this once…

In the end, however, our older adopted children need us to be vigilant in enforcing our family rules and expectations. They need it to help their brains develop cause and effect thinking. They need it to help them learn how to live in a family. And, even though it may not seem like it at first, by being consistent, eventually they will master the rules, and learn to live helpful, successful, empathetic lives.

Written by: Susan M. Ward, an older child adoption specialist, provides parent coaching and resources for adoptive families. Susan's training has focused on adoption issues relating to attachment, grief, and parenting. She's also the adoptive parent of a child healed from RAD (reactive attachment disorder). Her website is Older Child Adoption Support

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