The 3 C’s of Parenting: Clear, Concise, and Consistent

As a professional in the world of counseling and child welfare, I know that parenting can be tricky. As a parent of a 13-year-old, I experience these challenges personally. Informed by my education and training – and proven through my professional and personal experiences – my philosophy with parenting has always been the three C’s: Clear, Concise, and Consistent. This is a set of complementary communication strategies that can improve your relationship with your children, reduce the frustration you may experience, and lead to more effective parenting.

The first C is Clear, meaning straightforwardly identifying your expectations of behaviors and the rules to be followed in and out of the home. Clarity is the foundation for understanding. You, the parent, make the rules – but ask yourself, “Are they clearly defined? Does my child understand my expectations?” Even if you are confident the answer is yes, you may need to focus on confirming understanding in your rules. In my house, my son understands that we have standard household rules, “no friends over when we are not home, no video games after eight on a school night, and no foul language around adults.” How does he know these rules? Our expectations of his behaviors have been very clear over the years. It is difficult to hold someone accountable for their actions if you first have not clearly identified your expectations of behaviors. I often model the rule of three for determining understanding. When asked to perform a task, for example, “I need you to take out the trash. What do you hear me asking you?” “You want me to take out the trash.” “Correct. Thank you for taking out the trash.” Three is the smallest number pattern, and you are more likely to remember the sequence when you create a pattern.

 The second C is Concise, or getting the point across without belaboring it. We don’t need the story or foundation of why this is the best choice or the thought process behind the expectation. The average attention span is 8.25 seconds. Make sure you make those 8 seconds count; if you haven’t hooked them in the first 8 seconds, they may not remember the directive. Kids are simple, they want choices, but they also want rules and directions – these boundaries, while frustrating, create a sense of safety for children. Children are more likely to accept your rules when you take the time to clarify and provide concise expectations so they know where you stand. Allow for time for clarifying questions, and do not assume that because they are asking questions, they are being defiant. Embrace your child’s curiosity, validate their thoughts and feelings, and clarify expectations.

The third and final C is Consistent, meaning being predictable in what you expect and how you respond. If you struggle with consistency as a parent, you are not alone. Every parent has given in or done the opposite of what they wanted or knew was right to stave off a tantrum, unwanted behavior, or just to make their life easier. Don’t feel bad; you’re human. At the same time, there should be a few rules that are not compromised. Physical safety rules should be consistently enforced, i.e., no hitting, kicking, or biting. Consistently enforced, always a consequence. If you want to compromise on anything here, it should be the consequence, not the absence of the consequence. I always advocate that we need to have consistent rules, but that we can provide choices in enforcing consequences. “Do you want to do your time out on the couch or the floor?” We still have a consequence, but they have some control over the location. “You broke the trashcan because you were angry about being asked to complete a task. Do you want to use the money in your savings to purchase a new trashcan, or would you prefer to do extra tasks to earn money to replace the trashcan?” We still have a consequence, but they decide how it will impact them financially or with their time.

Parenting is a difficult task. Sometimes as parents, we succeed, and sometimes, we don’t – but those can be opportunities to learn how to succeed next time. If we ensure that communication and expectations are clear, concise, and consistent for everyday tasks, we should see fewer arguments and more compliance in the home – and consequently better relationships and improved mental health as parents.

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