First-time obedience (FTO) is a phrase you commonly hear in Babywise parenting circles. But what exactly does it mean? It’s really quite simple to understand. First-time obedience means your child obeys your instruction the first time, no questions asked.
First-time obedience is important for many reasons including:
- It sets clear expectations for the child.
- If you teach obedience, you don’t have to teach anything else.
- It helps you decide when a correction is necessary; disobedience is disobedience.
- It teaches your child to obey your word and not rely on bribes or rewards for motivation.
- It teaches your child to submit to your authority and adopt an attitude of submission when obedience is required.
- When your life is not fraught with disobedience, your days are happier and your relationship with your child grows stronger.
- If you teach moral values (through obedience) when he’s little, you give yourselves many years of a trusting, loving relationship.
What does first-time obedience look like?
First-time obedience is a fairly simple to identify. Here’s what it looks like:
- Your child responds to the call of his name with “yes, mommy”.
- Your child gives you eye contact when you call his name.
- Your child immediately complies with any instruction you give, whether it’s putting his shoes on or cleaning his room.
- Your child obeys with an attitude of submission and a happy heart.
What does first-time obedience NOT look like?
Would your child be characterized by first-time obedience? Be honest with yourself. Do any of the following go on in your home?
- Your child ignores you when you call his name. Or worse, he runs away when you call.
- You repeat your instruction 50 times before he complies. (This is 50th-time obedience!)
- Your child counts on your inconsistency and will keep pushing the envelope to find out how serious you are.
- Your child whines or talks back when you give an instruction. If it worked once before, it might just work again.
- You offer threat after threat to get your child to comply.
- You count to three in a threatening tone when your child doesn’t comply.
- You bribe your child with stickers, marbles, pennies, or promises for ice cream to get him to obey.
- You guilt your child into complying with your instructions.
- You beg your child to obey.
- You and your child end the day frustrated and stressed out.
Don’t worry if you recognize any of these scenarios. I’ve been there and I’m here to help!
First things first: Ezzo fundamentals
By now you’re probably convinced of the value of first-time obedience. It’s so very promising for us as parents and for the moral and ethical health of our children. Now, are you ready to put in the effort to make it a reality?
The first thing you need to do as you attempt to instill first-time obedience in your child is forget the idea altogether. Yes, you heard me right. Set it aside for now. There is a much bigger foundation you must lay before your FTO work can even begin. I realize that it’s tempting to jump into first-time obedience training with both feet, but I promise that it will be much more difficult if you don’t implement the Ezzo fundamentals first.
Make your marriage a priority
What does your marriage have to do with parenting? Everything. If you have read any of the Ezzos’ books, then you are no stranger to the idea that the marriage must come first. As Ezzo says in On Becoming Childwise, “Great marriages make great parents,” (page 43). Your marriage is the ground upon which your child stands. Practice couch time to proactively show your child that you value your marriage. Also be sure to maintain your roles as husband and wife, not just mom and dad.
Avoid child-centered parenting
Too often, once a child is brought into the marriage, parents focus extensively on the child. Though it is often done in the name of good parenting, child-centered parenting actually does more harm than good. Instead of integrating the child into the family as a welcome member of the family, they make the child the center of their world. This creates within the child a false sense of self-reliance. The child becomes wise in his own eyes and attitude issues run rampant.
Schedule your child’s day
When you direct your child’s activities, you drastically reduce the risk that he will be bored and stir up trouble. Create a daily schedule that includes activities like nap time, quiet reading time, independent play time (room time or playpen time), sibling play time, outside time, and more.
Establish your funnel
Envision a funnel or inverted cone. At the bottom, the opening is narrow. This represents the freedoms you allow your child when he is young. As he grows (in maturity and chronologically), you increase those freedoms. Keep your child in that funnel. Don’t allow your two-year-old to roam the house at will or require your 12-year-old to keep his hand on the cart at the grocery store. Make sure freedoms are age-appropriate and award new freedoms based on responsibility, not age.
Say what you mean; mean what you say
Trite as they may be, these eight simple words have great power over your first-time obedience training. The underlying principle of “say what you mean; mean what you say” is that you clearly communicate to your child what you expect of him and follow through on every word you say. Take your time before you speak and be sure that whatever you say are words you can stand by. The Ezzos say, “Never give a command unless you intend for it to be obeyed,” (Growing Kids God’s Way, p. 126.)
Teach your child to ask for permission
If you have a child who roams the house or goes into the backyard at will, you will greatly benefit from this simple technique. Having your child ask for permission stops behavior problems in their tracks! You can even teach a non-verbal child to do the sign for “please” to ask for permission.
Encourage and love your child
There are parents who feel that they desperately need first-time obedience because they spend their days yelling at and barking orders at their children. Frustration is the name of the game. These parents often skip to the discipline section of the book in an attempt to nip behavior problems in the bud. But let me be clear: love and encouragement go a LONG way toward improving your child’s behavior. So be sure to encourage through praise, spontaneous rewards, physical affection, and goal incentives; and speak your child’s love language to make sure he is receiving your love. Most important, enjoy and have fun with your child!
Be intentional in your parenting
Planning and intent are key to establishing first-time obedience:
- Start as you mean to go on. Don’t start a habit you won’t want to continue.
- Read, read, read!
- Understand why you do what you do. Ignore parenting experts whose theories don’t make sense to you. (Many of them offer only short-term fixes anyway.)
- Create a discipline plan and decide on consequences ahead of time.
- Work with your spouse to identify the values you wish to instill in your children.
- Identify the behaviors you’d like to see in your children. Set the bar high but also be realistic in your expectations!
- Keep your attitude in check. Find a tone that communicates that you want your child to succeed in first-time obedience, but that you hold authority over him if he doesn’t.
- Be sure you understand the difference between childishness and foolishness. Always give your child the benefit of the doubt if you’re unsure.
- Model for your child what you expect from him. Avoid hypocrisy at all costs.
- You are your child’s teacher. Never forget that all discipline takes place to teach a lesson.
Don’t forget attitude
External compliance is great but it’s not our ultimate goal. Compliance with a happy, submissive heart is our ultimate goal. If your child complies with your instruction but sulks off after, make him do it over. Discipline for attitude just as much as you would for behavior problems.
Begin first-time obedience training
Once this all-important foundation has been laid, you can move on to your first-time obedience training. Understand that first-time obedience is a skill your child needs to learn. It will be difficult at first, especially if your child is used to ignoring you, but the payoff will be so rewarding.
Stay tuned for specifics on first-time obedience training. In the meantime, explore the links above to learn more about each layer of your parenting foundation.