Children not only need to know when they are going to be fed, when it is bath- and bedtime and when they have to go to school. They also need to know when behaviour is unacceptable and what the consequences are.
Effective discipline entails setting clear limits, communicating clearly and punishing in a consistent way. There is no point in punishing a child harshly today but only reprimanding him the next day for the same misdemeanor. Rewarding positive behaviour consistently is equally important.
Parents also need to adapt their disciplining style as their children grow older. Very young children, for example, need immediate punishment (and rewards!).
When parents argue
Parental discord or disagreement is a great source of inconsistency. Children feel very confused if they receive conflicting messages from each parent and soon learn that they can play one parent off against the other.
Parents need to agree on one set of rules and stick to it. If a parent disagrees with the other parent's parenting style, it should be addressed – but not in front of the children.
A common cause of inconsistency is when parents feel they need to overcompensate and became more lenient to make up for something, such as long working hours, marital discord or divorce. The sad thing is that instead of "treating" their child in that way, they increase the child's insecurity and fears.
'But Suzie's mom…'
Adolescents in particular are great at comparing their parents to their friends'. While it helps to learn from other parents, don't be pressurised into changing rules in order to fit in or not to come across as the unreasonable, stuck-up mom. Chances are, Suzie's mom is probably hearing the same story.
But if in doubt, ask for advice. A trusted teacher or a parent centre will give you the opportunity to bounce off ideas and to learn. In the end, there is no such thing as the perfect parent. There is only, as the wise psychologist Winnicott has said, "good enough parents."