Friday, May 20, 2011

Expect First Time Obedience and Seven Tips for Developing First Time Obedience

I was sitting in a doctor’s office one day, and there was a father sitting and waiting with his 2 year old daughter. She was walking around the waiting room, but then wandered too far. So Dad called “Suzy, come here.” Suzy ignored him. The father repeated “Suzy, come here.” Suzy ignored him again. He repeated a third time louder “Suzy, come here!” Suzy turned and looked at him went “Pfffffffffffft” (gave him a raspberry). The father yelled “Suzy, come here now!” Suzy said “No!” The father walked over and picked Suzy up and took her to his seat. Then he proceeded to tickle her and play with her!!

Passionate Legacy Principle #5: Expect First Time Obedience. Always ensure that your word is obeyed. Expect first time obedience without argument, not “partial obedience”. Obedience with a bad attitude or after having been reminded several times is not obedience. Don’t limit your children with your own low expectations; they will live up to the standard you set, whether low or high. Make your word valuable by enforcing the rules, if you don’t, your word means nothing and your rules are meaningless. Your follow-through will make your words either garbage or gold. Never give a command you don’t intend to enforce. This aspect is more difficult for parents than for children, but if we can train ourselves to be consistent with our follow-through, our children can learn to obey the first time.

Part of training children in first time obedience is holding them accountable for obedience. Always inspect what you expect. When you say “go clean your room,” after they are done go see if they really did it. If they say they are going to a friend’s house, check and see if that is really where they went. If they know you will hold them accountable they will make a habit of following through, but if they know you will never know whether they obeyed or not, they won’t make an effort at obedience and will not gain the practice in right living that they desperately need.

Remember there is a difference between a request and a command: A request is just a suggestion of helpfulness or a favor, with a choice to fulfill the request or not. A command is an order, and is meant to be fulfilled. Make sure you are always clear with your children whether you are making a request or a command and make sure they obey if it is a command. Use commands sparingly. Authority should not be misused to treat children like personal servants. The authority we have as parents should be used for the benefit of the children we oversee, not our own personal interest. Have you ever heard a parent order a child around? “Go get me a pop from the fridge.” As children get older they recognize the misuse of power and they begin to resist authority if they believe it to be selfish (Mark 10:42-45).

Some Guidelines and Tips for Developing First Time Obedience

In this section we will refer to a couple techniques for interacting with a child (broken record, physical assist), these will be more clearly defined in future lessons. These items are adapted from Taking Charge, by Joanne Nordling (SIBYL Publications, 1999).

1. Use a positive tone of voice. A positive tone of voice lets children know you respect them. Even describing information (“it’s time for bed”), if delivered in a harsh tone of voice, can invite a power struggle.

2. Give lead time, if possible. Give some advance notice that you are going to want something to happen soon. For example, “In five minutes it will be time to start picking up the blocks,” or “In ten minutes we need to be ready to leave for Grandma’s.” Giving lead time is a way of showing respect for the child’s activities and is much more likely to result in cooperation when you say, “It’s time to go.” (And remember, when you say it’s time to go, that means you too!)

3. Don’t give a choice if there is no choice. By saying to the child, “You can choose to do either this or that,” you empower the child and give him or her a sense of control. However, the choices you offer must be legitimate choices that you can live with. Examples: “You can either go to bed right now or hear a story and then go to bed.” “Would you like to play for 10 more minutes before we go or go right now?” “You can play without pushing or you can sit out for part of the game.” Never give a choice where there is no choice, and do not ask children if they want to do it. For example “Do you want to go to bed now?” or “Let’s go to bed, okay?” By asking children if they want to or if it’s okay, you have given them the choice of not going to bed. It is not fair to expect a child to mind when you have not given a clear command. An important point: If children refuse to act on either choice, you must make the choice for them. If the child refuses to move, you can step in to use the physical assist or the broken record corrections.

4. Be reasonable in the type and number of choices or commands you give. You will have to be the judge of how many commands per day are reasonable, but remember, the fewer commands you give the more likely the child will take notice when you do give a command. As the child grows toward puberty, you should need to give fewer and fewer commands. The older the child, the more areas of life should be in his or her own area of control. We do not own children. Any command that orders children around just because the adult wants to wield power over them is not reasonable. Any command that tries to force a bodily function on the child is also unreasonable, “Eat that food” or “Stop wetting your bed” are unreasonable commands because they attempt to control another human being’s interior bodily functioning. All body functions belong solely to the person who lives in the body, of whatever age.

5. The fewer words the better. Be as brief as possible. Give only one, or at most two commands at a time. Giving too many commands at once is confusing. “Gary, go upstairs and bring me a diaper for the baby, and on your way, turn off those bathroom lights, and when you’re done with that, you can either take the letters on the hallway table out to the mailbox before we watch Sesame Street or before lunch.” This kind of command is too hard to remember even for a very intelligent child. Keep it short, clear and simple. A one word command is sometimes the best. Rather that telling a five year old who knows better to pick up her coat and put in on the rack, simply point at the coat and say “Coat,” in an authoritative but not angry voice. A single word is hard to argue with.

6. Be sure you can follow through with the correction, otherwise do not give the command or choice. If you are in a public place, like the grocery store or at a school play, and you know you will be too embarrassed to carry out the correction, do not give the command. You must be consistent in carrying out the correction the first time the child does not mind. It is better to not give the command than to sabotage yourself by commanding and then not seeing it through. In the case of Suzy, (see above) if the father was too embarrassed to discipline his child at the doctor’s office, then he could have started by just physically picking her up rather than trying to convince her to obey or he could have given the command but then taken her outside to give a time out or spanking if she did not obey. Allowing Suzy to say “no” without consequence and especially rewarding her with a tickle, is teaching her that she can treat Dad however she pleases and that his words are meaningless.

7. Do not respond to self–indulgent behavior. Concentrate on dealing with the not-minding behavior. Do not let the child’s accusation, complaints, whining, name calling, or scolding deflect you from carrying out the correction for not-minding. You will sabotage yourself if you get hooked into responding in any way to the self-indulgent behavior (more on this in a future article).


When these tips become habits, they promote first time obedience in children. They are a starting point and form the general foundation for expectations of behavior. In the next lesson, we will get more specific about how to administer discipline when first time obedience does not happen. We will be learning the four categories of disobedience and how to specifically address each one with the appropriate discipline.