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Be consistent. It's perhaps the most common parenting advice I get from other moms and dads.

Basically, it suggests staying on message when teaching a child right from wrong, not letting something slide one day and then going absolutely ape poop over it the next, something like, say, body-slamming the chronically obese cat on the ceramic tile, hardwood floor or basement steps.

I always try to follow this recommendation, but it can be extremely challenging and frustrating, because sometimes I see red when my three-year-old boy covers himself in food and other times it makes me laugh out loud to the point where I take pictures.

It's that type of mischief or bad behaviour, the stuff that prompts laughter, which makes it hard to be consistent in ensuring he gets the message his actions are dangerous, dirty, not socially acceptable, rude or just plain, all-caps BAD.

Such was the case recently when my boy's young cousin invited us in his house as we walked by.

They're a year apart and play as well as kids that age do, meaning there are always issues, like one wanting a car the other's playing with or one poking, prodding or pushing the other.

There was little of that this day, though.

The boys played together brilliantly and were having a major hoot.

I took advantage and enjoyed a long chat with the cousin's parents, who are always good for a laugh.

When the peaceful playtime lasted an hour, it seemed strange and peculiar, but I complimented my son on being such a good boy.

As we approached 90 minutes, I began getting really concerned. This was not like my kid, especially these days as he continues his adjustment to sharing all the attention with his little sister.

More time passed, and I began wondering if it was too good to be true or if we had overstayed our welcome and things were bound to go south.

The latter proved true at the two-hour mark.

A devious laughter came from downstairs. It's a chortle I'm all too familiar with. My boy was up to something.

I raced down to find him standing in the middle of the cat's box, tossing litter all around a room and down a hall with a wide grin on his face.

He was in absolute glee.

Here's where being consistent became a challenge. I wanted him to know his actions were wrong, and disgusting, and potentially sickening, but I was busting a gut at what he was doing, the mess he was making and how happy he was about it.

The only advice I could muster on the walk home, with tongue firmly in cheek: "Don't do that again. Littering is dirty and bad."


Steve Bartlett also finds it hard to be consistent at column-writing. Reach him by email at He's @SteveBartlett_ on Twitter.

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