Know when to walk away


It’s so important for parents to take responsibility for the teaching and training we do for our children. When something goes awry, we need to look to ourselves first and realize that our children look to us to learn how to exist in this world. Whether we teach through direct instruction or lead by example, teaching our children is so important.

On the flip side of this is recognizing the importance of knowing when to walk away. At some point in our children’s lives–whether it’s when they start kindergarten or leave for college–they need to take ownership of their own actions. We know we have done our job when our children can walk away from us confidently, knowing how to behave (and believe) in certain situations.

Even when our children are little, we need to train ourselves to recognize when to teach and when to walk away. This idea comes to light in On Becoming Childwise when they discuss allowing our children to surrender with dignity. Essentially, we need to give our children an instruction and walk away with the confidence or expectation that they will follow through. Standing over the child while expecting him to disobey will not produce an obedient heart. If you expect them to disobey, they will. By the same token, if you expect them to obey, they will.

This plays out very clearly in daily life. When you train your child to stay in his room for roomtime, you take the time to explain what is expected of him–and why you expect those behaviors–and then you walk away. You walk away expecting that he will stay in his room. The same plays out when expecting a child to complete a chore. Walk away. But then also have a plan B for when the child doesn’t comply. The Ezzos tells us our children won’t be obedient 100% of the time, so we need to have a plan for how to deal with the child when they choose to disobey.

Just yesterday, I sent William, my 7-year-old, into the laundry room to put a load into the dryer. I told him exactly what I needed him to do, and I didn’t even follow him into the laundry room. I expected that he was old enough to understand my instructions and follow through with the care and determination that I would expect. Well, wouldn’t you know it, he ended up putting half of the load in the dryer, and then proceeded to throw the clothes around the room with his brother. They were playing some silly game with each other with the clothes. Plan A worked fine…until it didn’t. As soon as I heard the silliness, they were both sent to sit on their beds.

But at no point in the process did I stand over my child to ensure he completed the task. I allowed him to surrender with dignity, and then when he chose not to obey, I exerted my authority and sent him to his room. And even when sending both boys (now 4 and 7) to their rooms, at no point did I even have to follow them upstairs or make sure they sat on their beds. They have a healthy respect for my authority now that they will go up and sit very willingly (even though they hate it). From the very start of the whole episode, I gave a verbal instruction and never felt the need to watch over them. In fact, I think I stayed sitting in my chair the whole time.

The lesson to be learned from all of this is that we parents need to draw a line in the sand. There are times–especially when they’re toddler or preschool aged–when we need to stand over them and make sure they follow our instructions. And then there are times when we simply expect them to obey and have a plan for when they don’t. There’s nothing more suffocating to a child than a parent who stands over them with a critical eye. If the child is characterized by being 90% obedient, you should walk away 90% of the time. If he’s obedient 60% of the time, walk away 60% of the time.

And yes, our children will disobey. But we need to give them the freedom to disobey by their own free will so they will be able to learn from the experience. We all learn from our mistakes, don’t we? Let’s give our children the same courtesy.



  1. Maureen says:

    I got an email from Anne Marie Ezzo in response to this post. She asked whether I had William complete the laundry task after he had his timeout. My answer: yes! She makes a valid point. Never in our work with children should discipline replace the original instruction. Suppose I didn’t make William complete the task after his timeout. Well, next time he could very well decide that he’d rather have a timeout than help me with laundry. I never want to make that an option. Obedience to my instructions is never a choice!

Speak Your Mind