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.


Are you the opponent, teammate, spectator, or coach?


In every sport there are the opponents, teammates, spectators, and coaches. Imagine your life as a sporting event. What role do you play? Are you the opponent, teammate, spectator, or coach?

If you’ve read my blog for any length of time, you likely know what the answer should be, but let’s examine them all.

The opponent

When it is the parent’s job to monitor the child’s actions, attitudes, and beliefs, it is far too easy to become the child’s opponent. In many ways, you have differing attitudes and goals. With opposing viewpoints, you become the opponent.

Particularly in power struggles, specifically a “battle of wills,” it is easy for the parent to take on an opposing stance, thus becoming the opponent.

My husband and I have fallen into this trap, establishing an attitude of “us vs. them” or “parents vs. children” in our home. Do not become your child’s opponent. You will quickly find yourselves at odds, and you stack the deck against yourselves. Coming to an agreement on attitudes and beliefs with a child who sees you as his opponent is difficult to say the least.

The teammate

The Ezzos and I take a very firm stance that not only is the child not to be the center of the home, but more than this, the child is not to stand on equal footing with the parent. The child is not the parent’s friend or peer. Parents must hold a position of authority over the child. Parents must avoid establishing a democracy in the home.

As your child’s teammate, you are not his opponent, but you lack the authority to guide and direct his actions and attitudes. Imagine two teammates on a soccer field. They work together toward the same objective, passing the ball between each other to get the ball in the net. But neither player has the authority to direct the other’s actions.

The spectator

No professional sporting even can exist without its fans. But let me assure you, there are no spectators in the sport of parenting. Children need parents to actively participate in their lives, not stand back and watch. I have discussed the importance of preventing behavior problems in our children. If you act as a spectator, you are essentially waiting to see how your child will behave. You are then left to deal with behavior problems after they happen. If you find yourself in a spectator role, stand up and join the game.

The coach

If this was your guess, you’re right. You want to be your child’s coach. You are your child’s teacher, even after you have sent him off to school. You hold authority over your child to train him, teach him, hold him to a standard (hopefully a high one), set limits, redirect or correct him when problems arise, stand in support of the child, and offer encouragement and praise where it’s due.

Evaluate your role

Take a minute to step back and evaluate your role in the game of life. If you see yourself as your child’s opponent, teammate, or spectator, take that as your cue to work on your relationship. Change your course and do all that you can to solidify your position as your child’s coach in life.

Why exactly is consistency so important?


We’ve all heard how important it is to be consistent with our children. I’ve mentioned it countless times on this blog. The Ezzos emphasize it, as do authors of other parenting books. But why exactly is consistency so important?

If you’ve been a parent for any length of time, you know that it’s not easy to be consistent. We live our lives and some days we are more on top of our game than others. Some days we’re in a mood to be the best parent we can be, and other days, we’re just tired. For most of us, our level of consistency varies based on our mood.

But that’s exactly what makes it difficult for our children. Why should they have to calculate our moods, the weather and many other factors when determining whether to obey?

It’s very simple: Inconsistency confuses our children.

It’s natural that children will try to assert as much independence as possible. They will push every limit to see how far they can get. They know that different parents, grandparents and other caregivers set different limits. They are very quick to figure it all out. They are also very quick to recognize when we’re being inconsistent.

I had an episode of this just today with Lucas. We were on a walk, and I always require that he hold my hand while crossing the street. Well, I wasn’t consistent in requiring it today. He’s starting to show that he’s responsible enough to not hold my hand. And when we were walking on sleepy residential roads, I tended to let it go. But when we got to a bigger road with more cars, I required that he hold my hand. He was defiant, pure and simple. He ran away from me to avoid holding my hand.

I realize that I was the cause of his defiance. I should have required that he hold my hand on every road, or at least explained to him the difference between the roads. In his mind, I was just changing the rules as we went. His confusion led to defiance.

Given that consistency is so important, yet so difficult for parents, what can we do to make it easier? Some ideas:

  • Create a list of house rules
  • Write them down and post them in a prominent place in your home
  • Ensure your spouse and other caregivers agree with those rules
  • Get them to commit to helping you follow through on those rules
  • Explain your rules to your children
  • Evaluate your rules regularly as your child ages and shows more responsibility (Perhaps Lucas is responsible enough now to not hold my hand.)
  • Create a list of rules for situations when you’re out in public
  • Keep that list somewhere handy (like on your smart phone)
  • Start your day vowing to be consistent
  • Establish a signal that you and your spouse can share when you see you’re not being consistent. For example, if he sees inconsistency in you, he can tug on his ear.
  • Be on the lookout for episodes of defiance caused by inconsistency (like Lucas’ defiance on our walk). See those episodes as an affirmation for consistency.
  • Work on your authority and avoid child-centered parenting, so your child knows he doesn’t make the rules

Do you find it difficult to be consistent? Have you established any tips or tricks to make it easier?

Managing authority


How well do you manage your authority over your children? Do other people think you’re too strict? Too permissive? Do you bribe or threaten your way out of bad behavior?

“Let’s face it, authority has been a struggle for humankind from Cain and Abel to Bonnie and Clyde. Children struggle with it from birth, and as we grow older, the struggles just grow,” (On Becoming Childwise).

Despite our struggles with authority, we cannot parent our children without it. We cannot teach them the ways of the world without it. We cannot coexist peacefully without it. How we handle authority sets the tone for our parenting.

“Everybody has an idea for handling authority: diversion, persuasion, surrender, bribery, pleading,” (On Becoming Childwise).

We must be strong enough to take a position of authority even when other people think we are too strict.

“For many people, authority has taken on a derogatory flavor. We almost feel like we have to apologize when we use it. … [But] authority is a necessary positive. Until man can order his own affairs, until he ceases to prey on his brothers, he will need someone to maintain order. This is critical for children. The proper use of authority, whether it be parental leadership in the home or civic government, is not restraint, but liberation,” (On Becoming Childwise).

This idea that authority brings freedom and comfort echoes what I said in my last post about the cadre in French parenting.

Despite this clear need for authority, we must be sure to find the right balance:

“The parent who controls too little and the parent who controls too much both reflect misconceptions and false antagonism that have misguided today’s parents. Though both approaches are attempts to produce conscientious, responsible children, they are extremes which apply improper use of authority,” (On Becoming Childwise).

We should take a step back and decide where our authority lies in the spectrum.

“Sadly, many parents live at one of these unwise poles. The over-authoritarian parent may employ highly punitive and sometimes abusive practices which come with strict rules and heavy-handed punishment. The problem here is not the exercise of authority, as some believe, but the excessive and wrongful use of authority,” (On Becoming Childwise).

Every time we exert authority over our children, we should question our reason for doing so. Yes, authority is required, but it should be used to protect the health, safety and morality of our children. If it is used for our own convenience or ego, the authority has been abused.

This line between healthy and abusive authority can be easily blurred. Holding a young child’s hand while crossing the street is a clear use of healthy authority. Making that same child sit in the shopping cart at the grocery store may be an unnecessary use of authority. Perhaps the child is responsible enough to handle the freedom of not sitting in the cart. And at the far end of the extreme, using our authority to require a child spend his Saturday mowing the lawn, doing the dishes, folding the laundry, pulling weeds and fetching us a glass of water is an abuse of authority.

Make sure every use of your authority is done in the name of helping the child become a better person. If it doesn’t promote health, safety or morality, let your authority relax and let the child be a child. 

Starting young


A few days ago, I got an email from a reader who wondered whether my eBook, Live in Harmony with First-Time Obedience, would be appropriate for her family even though her child was only a year old. My answer: yes! I believe it’s perfectly fine, if not preferable, to start obedience training early. Here’s why:

Training the child
When you start obedience training with a young child/toddler, you give yourself ample opportunity to establish authority over your child. There will come a day when he’s tempted to run in the opposite direction when you call his name. If you have been working on FTO and establishing authority, he will second-guess himself before he runs.

There will also come a day when you need your young child to obey. When Lucas was about 18 months old, I had a conference with William’s teacher. I wasn’t able to line up a sitter, so I brought them both with me. Other teachers occupied William, but I had to keep Lucas with me.

We had been doing blanket time at home, so I brought our usual blanket with us, gave him a basket of toys, and proceeded to talk to the teacher. He stood up one time and looked at me as if he was checking to see if it was okay. I told him to sit back down and he did. The conference was a good 20 minutes long, and he sat and played quietly the entire time. The teacher was impressed.

Training the parent
While training the young child is important, in these early years, it’s important for parents to train themselves. There are some parents who need to shore up the courage to command authority. There are some parents who stare like a deer in headlights, not knowing what to do, when their child disobeys. There are some parents who overlook disobedience because they don’t yet recognize it as disobedience. Read last week’s post on micro-rebellion for more on this.

When you start young, you prepare yourself for obedience training. Some day, your child will choose to run in the opposite direction when you call (I can almost guarantee it). If you have prepared yourself for obedience training, you will know what to do when it happens.

You will have discussed your parenting ideas with your spouse and decided ahead of time how you will treat every act of disobedience. You will make sure you and your spouse are on the same page. And you will take preventive measures, like blanket time and following a schedule, to head off disobedience before it rears its ugly head.

Do your reading now
When your child is young, take the opportunity to read parenting books and discuss them with your spouse. Read everything from Toddlerwise, Childwise and Parenting with Love & Logic to The Attachment Parenting Book.

You can take a methodical approach with your reading, deciding what your goals are and finding the resources to get you there. Or you can just get a feel for every book. When we find the book that’s for us, it will clearly resonate with us. There may be one or two pieces of advice that we don’t agree with, but on the whole we will know it’s for our family. I have done all of this reading and can tell you without a doubt that the Ezzos’ books are right for my family.

As you read, always stay one step ahead of your child. When your child is a baby, read Toddlerwise. When he’s a toddler, read Preschoolwise. When he’s a preschooler, read Childwise. That way, you can prepare yourself for what’s to come.

Are French parents better?

This is the question posed in a recent Wall Street Journal article discussing a new book, Bringing Up Bebe: One American Mother Discovers the Wisdom of French Parenting by Pamela Druckerman. In the book, the author discusses French parenting and contends that American parents are much more lenient, yet also overly focused on child discipline.

The author’s basis for the book? She lives in Paris with her (British) husband and three children:

“A few years ago, while enduring nightmarish restaurant meals with her then-18-month-old daughter on a French seaside vacation, it struck Druckerman that the French children around them were all perfectly well-behaved. Thinking further, she realized she’d seen the same on French playgrounds and in her French friends’ homes,” (Wall Street Journal, “Are French Parents Better?”)

The book’s description notes that:

“The French children Druckerman knows sleep through the night at two or three months old while those of her American friends take a year or more. French kids eat well-rounded meals that are more likely to include braised leeks than chicken nuggets. And while her American friends spend their visits resolving spats between their kids, her French friends sip coffee while the kids play,” (Bringing Up Bebe).

Sound familiar? This is exactly the type of parenting the Ezzos have been espousing for decades. But what exactly is the difference between American and French parenting?

They call it the French parenting “secret” but it’s no secret at all. It’s the ability to set clear, firm boundaries for children from their earliest days.

According to the book, French parents also avoid child-centered parenting (again an Ezzo idea):

“[T]he French have managed to be involved with their families without becoming obsessive,” Druckerman writes. “They assume that even good parents aren’t at the constant service of their children, and that there is no need to feel guilty about this. ‘For me, the evenings are for the parents,’ one Parisian mother told me. ‘My daughter can be with us if she wants, but it’s adult time,’ ” (Wall Street Journal, “Are French Parents Better?”).

I’m intrigued by the author’s contention that French parents rarely discipline their children. Their consistent modeling of patience and obedience teaches children to do the same. In fact, French parents are puzzled by the American emphasis on discipline.

Druckerman says, “Instead they stress ‘educating’ their kids, meaning not schoolwork but a holistic way of showing and telling them what is and isn’t allowed. This means infractions that require American-style punishments are rare,” (Wall Street Journal, “Are French Parents Better?”).

This reminds me of the Ezzos’ approach to non-conflict training.

This quote from the book’s description sums it up nicely:

“Of course, French parenting wouldn’t be worth talking about if it produced robotic, joyless children. In fact, French kids are just as boisterous, curious, and creative as Americans. They’re just far better behaved and more in command of themselves,” (Bringing Up Bebe).

I love it!

Simply life with first-time obedience


Does the idea of first-time obedience training frighten you? Fear not! First-time obedience training simplifies life immensely! While first-time obedience prevents you from having to explain and correct for every little behavior, it also means your child doesn’t have to remember every little detail of every situation. Imagine how tiring that would be to have to remember the specifics of every activity you expect of him.

I once heard of a fourth grade class that was taught by a teacher who did not have authority over her class. A new routine was established that required the children to stand up at their desks when the music teacher came into the room. The teacher was already stressed out about all the little details she had to require of her students, and this new routine sent her over the edge.

What stressed her out was not this one act of having her students stand up. It was the idea that it was one more thing that she had to worry about her students obeying. It was one more thing that required her to find new and innovative ways to get her students to obey. If she had authority over her class, asking them to stand at their desks would have been a very simple task.

It was also observed that this teacher’s students were tired all of the time. We’re talking 9- and 10-year-olds who have long since given up their naps. They were tired because they had to keep track of the 50 million things that were required of them throughout the day. Rather than being able to rely on the teacher and being taught to respect her authority, they were required to manage their behavior themselves. Imagine how much more smoothly the day would go if the children could simply respect and obey the teacher when she told them what to do!

By teaching your child first-time obedience, you are giving him the benefit of not having to worry about anything but obedience!

“But, but, I just…”


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.

Live in Harmony with First-Time Obedience. New eBook!

Have you always wanted to teach your children first-time obedience but you’ve never been sure where to begin? Let my new eBook, Live in Harmony with First-Time Obedienceteach you how.

I am very proud to announce the release of my new eBook! Several months ago, I realized that it might help parents to have one easy-to-read, digital source for advice on teaching first-time obedience. After many hours and late nights, it’s now a reality!

After reading through my own posts on the topic of first-time obedience, I decided that there were several holes in my teaching that needed to be filled. So I am excited to offer this eBook, which covers just about every idea I’ve had about training children in first-time obedience. The 112-page eBook serves as a great complement to the Parent Wise books from Gary and Anne Marie Ezzo.

In Live in Harmony with First-Time Obedience, you’ll learn how to:

  • Rid your home of tantrums, whining, complaining and negotiating
  • Train your children to be respectful and obedient
  • Create peace and harmony in your home so you can enjoy your children again
  • Work on obedience while they’re young and the stakes are low
  • Reduce the stress that comes with parenting young children
  • Achieve a balanced life of love and learning with your children

Gary Ezzo himself has endorsed the eBook:

One of the most important parenting tasks is helping children learn to obey. This eBook offers practical advice for parents in the throes of obedience training and is high on my recommended reading list. ~ Gary Ezzo

Get your copy of Live in Harmony with First-Time Obedience while it’s on sale! Until January 9, 2012, it will be available for just $6.99! That’s 30% off the original price!

Click on the graphic below to learn more about the eBook and to download a sample of the eBook. Have a look before you buy.

If you like what you see, consider becoming an affiliate. Earn 30% of the purchase price for every buyer you refer. Read more.


Tuesday Triumphs: Character development

Just last week, a parent who frequently volunteers in William’s classroom complimented me on his character. She said, “William is such a confident child, but he’s sweet and kind-hearted, not arrogant.” Her implication was that confidence often brings out arrogance and that William proves that the two don’t necessarily go hand in hand.

Her comment made me smile, of course, but more than that, it made me wonder what it is that makes him this way. There’s no doubt that he is confident. And he is a very sweet child.

When I think of his confidence in school, I immediately feel validation for our decision to delay Kindergarten. His birthday is just two weeks before our state’s cut-off date, so no matter which way we went, he was going to be either the oldest or the youngest. There was no middle ground. His first year of pre-K, he was the youngest. His immaturity was blatant. His second year of pre-K (same school, same teachers), he was one of the oldest, and his teachers (and I) were amazed by what a different child he was. The confidence and maturity he gained made all the difference.

But aside from his age compared to his classmates, I knew there was more, especially since he is in a mixed-age class right now. I know that I would never accept arrogance from my child, but how exactly did that translate in a way that an outsider would notice? What I couldn’t figure out was whether this is just his personality or whether I did something as a parent to encourage this in his character. Then I picked up my copy of Childwise, and the first page I turned to gave me my answer:

“Certainly a child is born with a particular temperament on which personality is built. However, these do not excuse a child from appropriate character training. The combination of virtues instilled in a child’s heart must be the same [no matter his inborn temperament].

Character, in fact, is not about a person’s temperament or personality. It is the quality of a person’s personality and the moral restraint or encouragement of his temperament. It is the outward reflection of the inner person. Our character reflects our morality and our morality defines our character. They are inseparable,” (pg. 89-90).

To be honest, I have never consciously worked on William’s character. I remember once finding a list of character qualities and wanting to incorporate them into our daily routine, but it never really happened. What I think happened is that by implementing the Ezzos’ parenting philosophies, building his character became a natural by-product of all of the other work we had been doing.

The book makes it clear that we are to teach our children to respect authority, respect property, treat others with kindness and encourage service to others. By spelling out the character traits we should instill in our children, the Ezzos have validated all of the traits that I have always wanted in my boys. And not only do they spell it out, they give me a road map to achieving it.

Ultimately, what this shows me is that the relatively minor details of my parenting—like developing a schedule, defining a discipline plan and working towards first-time obedience—are all part of a much bigger effort in character development. I’m happy to see that it’s all working as I had hoped.