I woke up at 3:30 this morning with my mind swirling about child safety and obedience.
I can hear you now: “Excuse me?”
I know, I know. It’s not exactly a topic that would keep most people up at night, but there’s a reason. Here’s what I mean.
I’m currently visiting for the week with my daughter and son-in-law in Tulsa, and enjoying the visit with them and my two, soon to be three granddaughters.
Everyone Raises Kids Differently
Needless to say, they do not raise their kids the same way I raised mine. I try diligently to keep my mouth shut when I see something I think they should be doing differently, but there’s one thing that really bothers me — it’s what woke me up in the wee hours this morning.
What bothers me is the issue of obedience. Kids obeying parents’ directives, and doing so immediately.
Currently in this household, when a parent issues a directive, such as “Don’t climb on that,” or “Don’t take that without asking,” the child will ignore it. An off the top of my head estimate is that somewhere between 60% and 80% of the time, the child will simply continue doing what they were doing, as if the parent hadn’t spoken at all.
If it was something important, the parent will repeat the directive. For some percentage of directives, it is never repeated, and the child continues with whatever the behavior was.
If the first directive was ignored and the parent didn’t forget, the parent will repeat it a second time, usually with a bit more force and volume. Better than 80% of the time, this second directive is also ignored, and the parent will say, “If you don’t stop [climbing] right now, you will go into time out.”
About half of the time, this also is ignored, at which time the parent will say in a very stern voice, “ONE!” I would estimate that 90% of the time, the behavior ceases immediately with that number.
If the parent gets to three, the child goes into time out, where she proceeds to either throw a tantrum or play and talk, but that’s a subject for a different post.
Delayed Obedience is Disobedience
The reason this concerns me so greatly became apparent with an incident last night.
The three-year-old was climbing on a structure in the back yard. Daddy was nearby, but was very busy with something else. He told her, “Naomi, do not climb on that!”
She, of course, wanted to climb on it, so she ignored the directive and continued to climb the structure.
I was closer than Daddy was, plus Daddy had his hands full and couldn’t do anything, so I came from behind her and put my arm around her middle and lifted her off the structure. I said, “Your Daddy told you don’t climb on that. You obey your Daddy!” and set her on the ground.
To me, it was a safety issue, and her disobedience was putting her at risk. By disobeying her Daddy’s first directive, she could have fallen off the structure and gotten injured.
Why First-Time Obedience Is Critical
What woke me up this morning was the absolute certainty that if you have kids, you absolutely must teach them to obey you the FIRST time you tell them something.
No delays. No excuses. Just do what you say, and do it now.
This might seem unconscionably strict to some, but consider this: there is a good chance that some time during this little person’s childhood when they are headed into a potentially life-threatening situation, and you are in a situation where you are unable to physically restrain them.
In this situation, the only control you have is your voice, your directives, your commands.
If your child is accustomed to disobeying you the first, second, and third time you tell them something, you will be unable to stop them from continuing into that life-threatening situation.
Demanding Obedience Is Merely Being Consistent
Some people might whine that being so strict with a child is harsh and unloving.
I strongly disagree.
If you give a child a directive and they ignore it with no consequence, you are being inconsistent. This confuses the child, and causes them to act out even more, as they try desperately to find your limits.
You do not need to be harsh to be consistent, do expect them to obey your directives.
You can do this with love, with gentleness. with the atmosphere of security and consistency that makes a child know they are totally cared for.
The Parents’ Obligation
It is true for all parents – those who expect immediate obedience as well as those who let their kids push them around through disobedience – that you must be very careful when and how you give them these directives.
If you give them a thousand directives a day, the critical ones will be lost in the mass of minor issues. Kids do not have the experience or judgment to tell what’s important from what’s trivial. That’s why they have you as a parent.
Therefore, you might consider distinguishing the critical from the trivial in some manner.
I used tone of voice and volume with my kids. If I told them something in a stern and somewhat forceful voice, they knew it meant “Obey this right now!”
I have seen others reserve specific directives to be statements, and turn the trivial things into questions. “Marsha, why don’t you color on the paper instead of the table? If you color on the table, then you’ll have to clean it up before you can have snack time.”
There are many ways to do it; you’ll have to find your own.
But please – find a way to get your kids to obey you, the first time, every time.
I pray you never get into the situation – but you could – where their lives depend on it.