I asked the girls to pick up their toys before dinner as I stirred the pot on the stove. It had been one of those days. The girls were tired. I was tired. We were all ready for the day to be done.
I could hear them still playing instead of cleaning up as I had asked. I know I should only give a command (clean up) when I am willing to follow through and make sure they obey. And yet, I debated with myself how much damage this would do to our habit training efforts if I ignored the fact that they were playing instead of cleaning up.
After a short debate with myself, I decided that I really should go help get them started cleaning up and I should have a good attitude about it. It’s times like this that I can encourage the habit of obedience by following through.
The motive for obedience should be based on Ephesians 6:1. Your child should obey not because he is afraid to not obey or because someone is watching, but because it is the right thing to do. He was born with the ability to obey, but not with the strength of will to resist the temptations calling him to disobey. You must strengthen his will.
Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. ~ Ephesians 6:1
It is not easy to teach your child to obey. Some days it is extremely difficult and VERY tiring! But the benefits, including not struggling to get him to do what he is told, are well worth the effort. Not to mention that God commanded us to teach our children to obey so we should be obedient in this command.
The following guidelines keep me going when I feel too tired, frazzled, and overwhelmed to train my child’s will and help him learn to obey.
Tips to train your child in the habit of obedience
1. Expect obedience with a single, soft-spoken word.
There is no need to yell, threaten, or nag to get your child to obey. You should expect obedience with a single, soft-spoken word. It is unlikely your child will obey at that single word, but you can train him to do so.
First, expect obedience and make sure it happens. That last part is key. You can expect obedience but if you do not follow through to make sure it happens, it likely won’t. It is always easier to stay on the couch, particularly when I’m tired, than to get up and take my child by the hand to help her do what she was told to do.
Second, do not repeat yourself. If you tell your child to put his toy away and you issue the request a second, or third time, you are training him to wait until that second or third request to comply. The same is true of issuing the “One, two, three…” warning. He knows he does not need to obey until you count to three.
2. Expect prompt and cheerful obedience.
Have you heard the following phrase:
“Delayed obedience is still disobedience.”
I have to be careful to not allow this to happen in our home. Many times I told my daughter to put her book away and wash her hands for dinner only to discover that because I was busy preparing dinner and didn’t make sure she washed up right then, she was just getting up to wash her hands 5 minutes later. She was obeying, but on her terms. That is still disobedience.
How do you train prompt obedience? I require my daughters to acknowledge my request with one of the following statements:
- “Yes, ma’am.”
- “I’m coming.”
The simple act of acknowledging my request shows respect and often prompts her into action.
3. Never give a command you do not intend to see carried out.
If you are unable to make sure your command is obeyed, you are better off waiting to issue it. This requires alertness on your part. For example, if I am not certain that my daughter will get up and wash her hands when told, I should not ask her while I am taking a hot dish out of the oven.
4. Teach your child to obey through games.
Obedience does not come naturally to most of us. Have you noticed that if you tell a baby or toddler to not touch something, he often will touch it anyway? We need to train our children to obey. This requires consistent effort, but it does not need to be tiresome and boring. You can make learning to obey fun with these games. They have been very beneficial in training my children to obey.
5. Explain the reward of perfect obedience.
The reward of perfect obedience is freedom and independence.
You can explain to an older child that if he demonstrates prompt, cheerful, and consistent obedience he will earn freedom and independence. For example, I trust that my daughter will come inside quickly when I call her so she is allowed to have a recess outside during lesson time. Another example is that I trust her to have polite behavior and listen to correction so she is often allowed to attend grown-up events when appropriate.
Habit training does not happen overnight. You will need to devote time and energy to developing the habit of obedience in your home. Don’t become overwhelmed by expecting perfect obedience immediately. Begin with one of the steps above and implement it faithfully. You will see results.