Babywise Week: Is Obedience Ever an Option?


It’s Babywise Blog Network Week again! All week, we’ll be featuring blog posts from other Babywise-friendly blogs. The schedule is as follows:

· Monday: Valerie Plowman, Chronicles of a Babywise Mom
· Tuesday: Maureen Monfore, Childwise Chat
· Wednesday: Bethany Lynch, The Graceful Mom
· Thursday: Hank Osborne, Daddy Life
· Friday: Surprise guest blogger


One of the many ways we parents get into trouble with our children is by making obedience an option. Of course, we  never set out to make obedience an option, but unfortunately, it happens. It’s important to recognize the ways that we may communicate to our children that they have a choice when it comes to obedience. Then after recognizing those ways, we are better equipped to spot them as they pop up in our daily lives.

So how exactly do parents convey that obedience is an option? There are many ways.

Not giving instructions with authority

How do you sound when you give instructions to your child? Do you ever sound like you might as well put a question mark on the end of your instruction? Do you sound like this: “Johnny, it’s time to get dressed.” Or like this: “Johnny, we need to leave the house soon, and we all need to be dressed and ready to go, so go get dressed. Okay?”

There are two things wrong with this example. First, don’t feel compelled to give your child an explanation as to why you’re requiring him to obey an instruction. Knowledge is power, and he may turn that information back on you in an attempt to get out of obeying. He may argue that getting dressed doesn’t take much time, so he doesn’t really need to obey you right then. Simply telling a child to get dressed leaves no option for disobedience.

The second problem with the above example is that big fat “okay?” at the end. Don’t ask your child to obey. Don’t ask him if he agrees with you. Don’t ask him anything. Simply direct him and do it with authority. If you can’t quite get a grasp on your firm mommy (or daddy) voice, work on it and do it now. If you want an obedient child, you don’t have the luxury of being your child’s friend — at least not yet. You are his parent, and parents stand in a position of authority over their children. So dig deep and get a grasp on your authority.

Front-loading consequences

Another way parents make obedience an option is by front-loading consequences. By this I mean that we tell our children what their consequence will be if they disobey. Hopefully, whatever consequence we threaten will be one they won’t like, but we never can know for sure. By front-loading consequences, we give our children a choice. They can either obey, or they can choose the consequence which as been laid out neatly for them. They can weigh the odds. And they may in fact decide that they’d rather run around at bed time and miss story time than obey.


How many times do you repeat yourself when giving your child an instruction? It can be so easy to repeat ourselves when our children don’t immediately obey. We may think they didn’t hear us or we may think that if we repeat ourselves with a more stern voice, they’ll be more likely to obey. Let me tell you that the opposite is true. When we repeat ourselves, we are training our children that they don’t have to listen or obey the first time. We are teaching them that we don’t really mean what we said the first time. Teach your child that you mean what you say. Don’t utter a word unless you are ready to follow through on that word. Train your child to obey your word among all else.


Similar to front-loading consequences, threatening our children with consequences does not get them to obey. When our children learn that we don’t mean what we say, they learn that our threats are meaningless. Now, it’s one thing to warn a child of an impending consequence and another thing altogether to threaten one and never follow through.

“The mother who first coaxes, then threatens, then bargains, then pretends to punish, and finally punishes a little is only making a bad situation worse…. Lack of moral fortitude and resolution in the parents undermines obedience,” (Growing Kids God’s Way, p. 124).

Parenting from the hip

I cannot emphasize enough how important it is to have a plan when teaching children to obey. Parenting from the hip only gets us into trouble. We must recognize our own fallibility. When we’re tired, hungry, or just plain grumpy, we cannot parent with a firmer hand. By the same token, if we’re in a good mood, we cannot let bad behavior slide simply because we don’t want to ruin the mood. Obedience cannot be subject to our mood or whim. If it is, our children will gauge our mood when deciding how important it is to obey. Children love to push the boundaries to see how flexible they are. If your boundaries are flexible based on your mood, your children will quickly figure it out.

Not only is this ineffective in teaching obedience, but it’s simply unfair to the child. Our children shouldn’t have to suffer the wrath of our mood. They should know what to expect; and they should expect that we will follow through every time. Have a plan and be consistent.


Many of us know that bribes don’t help. But when we’re in the heat of the moment, thinly veiled bribes often escape our lips. We may not say, “Be good in the store and you’ll get a lollipop.” But we may say something like, “I expect you to be a good boy in the store today. You can do that, right? Good, then when we’re done, we might be able to get some special treats.” No matter how you phrase it, a bribe is a bribe.

Scare tactics are just as bad. “If you’re not good in the store today, the police will come and get you!” Or, “We’re leaving… We’ll see you later. I hope the store leaves the lights on for you tonight.” The fundamental problem with bribes and scare tactics is that we are teaching our children that we don’t mean what we say. We only expect them to be obedient to gain a reward (or avoid a scary situation). We are not expecting our children to obey simply because we expect them to.


When we give our children an instruction, there should be no doubt that we expect them to obey the instruction exactly as we give it. When we tell a child to clean up his room right away, he should do so right away. He should not be allowed to negotiate with us by telling us he’ll do it in 5 minutes. When we tell a child it’s nap time, he should not be allowed to tell us he’s not tired. When we agree to a dessert of one cookie, he should not be allowed to convince us that he deserves three cookies.

“When parents become characterized by continually accepting a negotiated compromise, they undermine their attempts to bring their child to first-time obedience. If all is negotiable, then no instruction is absolute. When we negotiate in the heat of battle, there is no true surrender,” (Growing Kids God’s Way, p. 125).

Have no doubt: obedience requires submission.

If you ever wonder whether you’re undermining your authority and training your children not to obey, ask yourself whether you are training your child to obey your word. Whether you lack resolve and don’t follow through on your word or allow your child to negotiate with your instructions, take a minute to realize that the fundamental idea is that the child isn’t being taught to obey your word.

Remember this: “When you speak to your child in a way that requires an answer or action, you should expect an immediate and complete response,” (Growing Kids God’s Way, p. 125).

Your children are capable of complete obedience. All you need to do is pave the way for them to get there, removing any obstacles that may give them the idea that obedience is an option.


This was a weighty post with a lot to think about. I can’t not end this post without mentioning my eBook. While I’ve given you ways to spot a lack of obedience, I haven’t really told you how to train our children to obey. This is where my eBook comes in. I’ve written several other blog posts on first-time obedience, but if you are looking for a detailed, day-by-day instruction manual on first-time obedience, check out my eBook. Endorsed by Gary and Anne Marie Ezzo, Live in Harmony With First-Time Obedience: How to Use Love, Authority and Consistency to Teach Your Child to Obey the First Time, Every Time offers 112 pages of a detailed, step-by-step approach to creating an environment of peace, obedience and contentment in your home. Click on the above link to purchase and download it instantly, or download a sample to learn more. 


  1. i am curious what discipline methods you use…… it really only the wise principles?? Is FTO the heart of your methodology? I read you blog and I recall the post on Extreme consequences and some of the things you thought about Love & Logic (which i like the earlylogic til 6 yrs book but i definitely think their premise of endless choices is a direct contradiction to the Choice Addiction theory from BW…………and i’ve seen the latter in action…i think the root is usually too many freedoms IMO). Anyways do you “mix”/blend parenting philosophies? Do you stick to one mainly? I am just curious. I read all the wise and I have read L&L for age 6 for ideas on the logical consequences………i like the energy drain idea and other things. But i not convinced yet by L&L-i have tried things and ignoring and/or being calm and it just seems i have so much testing from my 4 YO. We’re hitting a rough patch with her and testing and she is spirited and likes to irritate/antagonize people. It is classic case of birth order with the 1st being a bit sensitive and not able to ignore her, the 2nd liking to push her buttons and so it goes (BTW i tried your sibling handholding technique the other day-worked pretty good-most of our problems are at the end of the day and i know everyone is tired). My 2nd has a loud personality and i’d say strong-willed for sure. The other day I probably had to work 45 minutes in time out, which is ridiculous at this age! I mean she just argues back and I say where to sit and she sits elsewhere…..she is not showing an obedient heart. She won’t stay put so i will resort to locking her as if there are no physical boundaries she is just testing to the max and not listening. I feel at this age i shouldn’t have this level of this. she has had testing phases and i know around 3.5ish is an emotional age (i recall from DD1) and testing and some other moms have spoken of developmental leaps,etc. She works herself up in hysterics during these sessions and the mindboggling thing is we can go right back the next day and she needs alone time and will do the same exact arguing, not sitting where I teill her,etc. It is exasperating. So that is kind of offtopic, sorry! I was really just trying to find out what methods you use and if you stick to one mainly or what? I have ordered the MomsNotes on FTO and I have all the wise books and I think maybe I should order some more Momsnotes on some topics with her. Do you have any you recommend? I think it can possibly get a bit confusing if i use too many different methods (and I think if you blend techniques you risk the chance of getting confused) as i know I have to be the one who is consistent! So just curious your thoughts on this. Thanks so much!

  2. Hi. That’s a great question. I only use the Ezzo principles. I do read other books (Love and Logic, positive parenting, etc.) to see if I can glean any tips, but I always come back. The most important thing that the Ezzos teach us that other books don’t is how to PREVENT misbehaviors and attitude issues, not just address them after the fact. So if you’re seeing a child who acts wise in her own eyes, you restrict her freedoms and have her ask permission for every little thing. You schedule every minute of her day and even choose her toys when it’s free play time. You can ease up on this after you start seeing results, but this is where you should go immediately when you’re having trouble.

    The other thing I like about the Ezzo principles is that they teach us not to run a child-centered home. If the kids rule the roost, they are getting the impression that the world revolves around them. This is where couch time comes into play.

    Also, a big thing that the Ezzos teach us that books like L&L don’t is to teach the moral reasoning behind everything. We don’t need to explain everything, but when it comes to requiring a “thank you” we teach gratitude. When it comes to sharing, we teach the value of others. When it comes to lying, we teach the importance of truth and how consistent lying can create a “boy who cried wolf” situation. And when it comes to sibling rivalry, we teach the child to love and empathize. Modeling these behaviors is also extremely important.

    I hope that answers your question!


  3. Thank you, it does! I think you are absolutely right that the key is to prevent the issues and i think the older kids heart training will do a lot. I do think L&L do try to make kids responsible,etc and the schools use L&L principles so i’ve been following this more and more but I think maybe i should just look at that mainly for ideas on logical consequences. I will reread my wise books, specifically Childwise for the 4 and 5 yr old (almost6). Do you recommend I get more MomsNotes (i only have FTO) or maybe i should do instead the GKGW workbook (i think it’s ages 4-12)? If i had limited funds what would you recommend as a “must have” in addition to what I have now which is all the wise books and the FTO (and your ebook of course!:) Do you think i should be set as is and just reread to refresh over the topics or is there anything else essential you’d recommend.

  4. You should be set if you have the Wise books, my e-book and the Mom’s Notes on FTO. I do really like the GKGW workbook, and I believe it’s on sale now, so if you have the money, I’d get it. It’s better organized than some of the Wise books. But you should be set with what you have. And you are right about being consistent and not pulling from too many resources. If I were you, I’d take a day or two and come up with a plan. Sit down with your DH. Review all your materials, and decide what works best for your family. For instance, the Mom’s Notes recommend spanking for FTO offenses. I do not. My e-book is all about training, laying the foundation, and setting expectations. Then once you have your plan in place, you can move forward and be consistent knowing you have done your homework.

  5. ok, thanks! that sounds like a good plan (and i don’t spank so yes that differs from Moms Notes FTO). Appreciate your time!