Want to win your tennis match? Remember the follow through. Is golf your game? Remember the follow through. "The follow through", of course, refers to sports, as in "the concluding part of a stroke, after a ball or other object has been hit or released" (thank you, online dictionary).
In parenting, the follow through can take many forms, but a good, basic definition would be "actually doing what you threaten to do when your child misbehaves", or "following your threats with (a reasonable) action that will communicate to your child that you are serious about making him change his behavior". Whether you use the word "punishment" or "consequence", it doesn't have any meaning if you don't follow through and implement it.
I'm sure you have all heard something similar:
"Ashley, pick up your toys.
Ashley, I said to pick up your toys.
Pick up your toys NOW!
If you don't pick up your toys, I will take them away from you.*
I mean it! Pick up your toys now!
I'll count to three...one, two, three...
Ashley, I'm serious! Pick up your toys!"
The * indicates the perfect opportunity for a follow through (although I would say something like "...or I will pick them up and put them away for you"). Ashley's mom could act on her threat and start grabbing toys and putting them in a box, then taking them out to the garage or somewhere that Ashley can't get to. Yes, Ashley would cry or yell or throw a tantrum--the first time. But once she knows that her mom will follow through, she will be more willing to pick up her toys. At this point, Ashley's mom is doing all the yelling and not accomplishing anything. One tantrum from Ashley might be unpleasant, but at least it would be productive--she would be learning about the follow through.
I inadvertently mastered the follow through when it comes to getting the kiddo to pick up small toys from the floor (hello, Legos!): the vacuum cleaner sucks them right up without any problem, and they make a clinking sound when they go in (oops). The kiddo knows that when I get the vacuum out, she better get everything off the floor because I am dangerous! My follow through with her hair seems to be improving; although she still whines, she has been letting me comb and/or brush her hair without too much trouble. I have a feeling I will get a chance to work on that, though.
OK, mommies, go forth and follow through!