“But, but, I just…”

Source: endlessimpact.com

Do you hear these words from the mouth of your child? If so, consider that the child might be challenging your authority. These words work their way into the conversation like this:

  • Parent: Jack, it’s time to put your toys away and wash your hands for dinner.
  • Child: But, but, I was just going to finish this one little thing.


  • Parent: Kate, treat your little sister more kindly please.
  • Child: But I was just telling her how to play.

What often happens when we hear these words is that we get drawn into a power struggle with the child about the instruction.

Words of negotiation
When our children speak these words, it is their attempt to negotiate with us. Their negotiation attempts are disguised challenges to our authority. When we strive toward first-time obedience, we cannot allow our children to negotiate their way out of a direct instruction.

“’Why can’t I?’, ‘Do I have to?’, and ‘But Mom!’ reflect an attitude which is not an appeal but a challenge to authority,” (Growing Kids God’s Way, p. 206).

In the spirit of saying what we mean and meaning what we say, it’s important to follow through on an instruction no matter how much the child objects. In fact, it’s all the more important to follow through when they object, so that we assert our authority and convey the idea that negotiation isn’t tolerated.

When we hear these words from our children, we must tell them that they are not tolerated. Teach him to replace his reply with “yes, mommy” or “yes, mom” as he complies with your instruction.

What if the child has a valid argument?
It’s true that we need to consider the needs of the child when we make requests of them, but the key to this is doing so before giving the instruction, not after the child objects.

For example, if you need to call your child to dinner, check on him to see that he’s nearing a stopping point in his play. If he’s watching TV, don’t call him when there are just five minutes left of his show. Of course, there are times when we need our kids to obey even if it’s a bad time, but if you have the flexibility, find a good time to give your instructions.

The appeal process
To avoid exasperating our children, it’s important to consider the appeal process. This idea warrants its own post altogether. But essentially, for a child who is characterized by first-time obedience and who understands the concept (about age 7 and above), you can allow a child to humbly appeal your instruction if they have new information regarding the instruction.

The Ezzos explain it well:

“Sensitivity must be present throughout the training process, or we risk emotionally exasperating our children…. Yet, even the most discerning parent will, at times, be insensitive to special situations. That is precisely why the appeal process is necessary. The child becomes proactive in providing needed information that will help the parent make an informed decision about his or her previous instruction,” (Growing Kids God’s Way, p. 203).

Be on the lookout for a future post on this topic, but in the meantime, start recognizing when your child attempts to dispute your authority, and always do your best to time your instructions appropriately.

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