Why Parenting Requires “Repetition”

"Be consistent" is popular parenting advice from many parenting experts. While it is important to be consistent (in other words, do not let your child eat sugary snacks one day and punish her for the same behavior the next day), it is much more important to be repetitive.

In my opinion, repetition is one of the most important, if not the most important parenting techniques you can use to help your children develop positive behavioral habits.

Parents are often unaware of how much repetition is required to "get kids to listen." Why do you think it is so common for parents to start yelling at their kids by saying, "How many times do I have to tell you…", or "If I’ve told you once, I’ve told you a thousand times…"? That’s because it often takes hundreds if not thousands of repetitions to get kids to turn their behavior in a direction that you want that behavior to take, as opposed to where the child actually wants to go with it.

Temperament is an important factor in how repetitive a parent’s instructions have to be in order to get kids to listen. Children with difficult temperaments might need thousands more repetitions in order to get them to comply with a request or change an undesirable behavioral habit.

Understanding how important repetition is provides insight for both new and experienced parents. Parents can be their own most unforgiving critics, and when what they say and do does not seem to make a difference in the behavior of their children, it can be very frustrating. Worse still, frustration and what seems to be "lack of results" can cause parents to abandon effective parenting strategies which then lead to "inconsistency," and poor results.

Turning Concept to Action:

1. Understand that there isn’t a one to one relationship between any parenting strategy and results. Instead, consider your attempts to change behavior a step on a ladder that produces results when the final step is reached. Just understand that some ladders can be very high.

2. If hundreds of repetitions are required to change a behavior or encourage a habit, don’t label yourself a bad parent. Muscles don’t develop after a few repetitions at the gym, and neither does behavior. Congratulate yourself for "doing the rep," and the results will follow eventually.

3. On a cautionary note, you can "delete" or "undo" a perfectly good parenting interaction by losing your cool with your child (which simply happens from time to time, regardless of how patient you are). As important as repetition is, modeling and imitation are very important influences on behavior as well. If you yell, your child will learn to yell. If you swear, your child will swear. If you refer to your child in a negative way (i.e. "spawn of the devil" or something even far less horrible), your child will refer to you in disrespectful terms.

4. Repetition is important for more than just the "lessons" you want your child to learn. Repetitive praise is important to, but like everything I advise, don’t "overdo" it. Praise effort. Praise good listening. Don’t praise for the sake of praising.

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