Consistency is a funny thing.
On one hand, consistency is key to excellence in performance. The author and scholar Jim Collins wrote that “The signature of mediocrity is not an unwillingness to change, the signature of mediocrity is chronic inconsistency,” which reshaped the thinking of a generation of innovators and leaders around the globe. It is the foundation of the Six Sigma technique for process improvement used by many companies, and an essential principle by which students build skills, teachers refine their craft, and organizations achieve efficiency.
On the other hand, consistency is often and easily misunderstood to mean unyielding rigidity. When Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote that “A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds, adored by little statesmen and philosophers and divines,” he highlighted the importance of being flexible and evolving as new information and ideas come to light. And this too is essential in attaining peak performance, as responding to both internal factors (such as greater skill and capacity) and external factors (such as scientific understanding and advancements) allows for improved achievement.
What does this have to do with raising children?
The past few years have been anything but consistent. From the pandemic to the wildfires, from changing laws to elected officials, from economic gyrations to family transitions, we’ve been navigating an intensely chaotic time in which children look to their parents and adult caregivers with an urgent need for comfort – and for increased consistency in their lives.
How do we be consistent as parents and caregivers? How do we know when to hold firm on a boundary we’ve drawn (children must brush their teeth after dessert, not before), and when do we recognize the need to be flexible (much to my surprise, we’ve allowed our 15-year-old to get a job)?
Last week I read this article from Psychology Today and learned several concepts about the importance of consistency when it comes to helping children deal with increased anxiety at a time like this. Chief among these was that it is important to limit adult accommodations, which is doing (or not doing) things to alleviate a child’s anxiety or stress because that ultimately leads to reduced independent coping skills.
As I sat with this article, I realized that one way parents/guardians can navigate the challenging border between being too rigid and overly flexible is to continually reflect on the values and purpose that underlie their parenting behaviors. I want to help one of my children become a better soccer player, so I bought an agility ladder and make time for us to go to the park; but if she only wants to do it for a little while, or runs out of steam, I must respond positively instead of forcing more high-knee reps. Because my deeper value is to cultivate her love for the game, and for the time we spend together.
At Gateway, our mission is to inspire children to lead lives of purpose and compassion through scholarship and citizenship. We’re clear on our school’s purpose, and we’re glad you are part of this community. Raising children is hard; doing so in community helps and brings unexpected joy. I hope you make time to sit with other parents and caregivers and get the support you need to reach your own parental goals. My door is always open if you’d like to talk.
Dr. Zachary Roberts, Head of School