Babywise Week: Is Obedience Ever an Option?

Source: return2learn.org

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.

Repeating

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.

Threatening

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.

Bribing

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.

Negotiating

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. 

Give instructions only once

Source: aeelaw.com

The Ezzos continually remind us to never repeat instructions to our children. There’s a fine line between reminding children of our expectations and nagging. When we nag, our children learn to ignore our word. And this is potentially one of the worst things that could happen to a parent.

The idea is so important, it is called out as Childwise Principle #12.

“Constantly reminding a child to do what is expected only means you have no expectation,” (On Becoming Childwise).

This is so true! Why shouldn’t our children obey the first time we give an instruction? When we set the expectation that they obey the first time, they are more likely to do so. This is especially true when we take the time to train our children in first-time obedience. Training them to say “yes, mommy” and give us eye contact are two very important steps in eliminating the need to constantly remind our children.

The effects of long-term reminders are far-reaching:

“What happens when the reminders aren’t repeated in successive sentences but over a period of hours, days, or weeks? No wonder the child doesn’t appropriate your instructions: there are no consequences for neglecting them, and anyway they’ll be repeated tomorrow so why remember today? At what point will you stop reminding?” (On Becoming Childwise).

It all comes down to accountability.

“When parents continue to instruct and remind their children how to behave after accountability training has been achieved, they are taking back ownership of a behavior that should no longer belong to them,” (On Becoming Childwise).

There are three very important ways you can eliminate the need to remind your child:

  1. Simply expect that your child will comply. Set the bar high, and he will rise to it.
  2. Get your “yes, mommy” and eye contact before giving an instruction.
  3. Maintain eye contact, even if you need to gently hold his chin, while you give an instruction.

If you do these three things, you will have no doubt that your child heard your instruction. And you can move on to appropriate consequences if he chooses to disobey.

Parenting: It’s all about attitude

Source: howtolearn.com

Your attitude as a parent is what defines the type of parent you are. Attitude is also one of the key components of any child trained in first-time obedience. It’s important to understand that both the parent’s and child’s attitudes must be in the right place.

Before working on first-time obedience training, mom and dad must work on their own attitudes. Establishing authority and requiring respect must form the basis of all parenting.

“Teaching children to respect and honor their parents is basic to teaching them how to show respect for others. It starts with the parents,” (Growing Kids God’s Way, p. 92).

There are three important parenting attitude types to consider:

  • Threatening, repeating parent
  • Permissive parent
  • Authoritarian parent

The threatening, repeating parent
Beware of the threatening, repeating parent syndrome. This represents the antithesis of first-time obedience. As you can imagine, threatening and repeating parents do everything but require a high standard of obedience. The threatening, repeating parent yells at the child to get his attention, repeats himself at every turn and spouts empty threats. These parents flip-flop between letting behaviors go and yelling when they get to be too much.

The permissive parent
Permissive parents are guided by laziness and fear. They tend to let their children do as they please because they are fearful of damaging the child’s self-esteem, fearful of the child’s inability to obey, fearful of losing their child’s friendship, fearful of imposing boundaries, fearful of being as strict as their own parents were. Many permissive parenting households are run very democratically with the child’s opinions being weighted just as highly as the parents’ (if not more so). In permissive parenting circles, the word “obey” is considered a four-letter word.

The authoritarian parent
Authoritarian parents are guided by the principles, “Do a I say, not as I do,” “Because I said so,” and “Children are to be seen and not heard.” Authority and obedience are the name of the game. There’s nothing wrong with authority and obedience, but the authoritarian parent takes it to the extreme and refuses to understand that love and encouragement are just as important. Legalism, not balance, guide the authoritarian parent. These parents stick to the letter of the law no matter what. The child’s needs and desires aren’t considered. These parents also fail to realize that you cannot treat a teenager like a toddler. The relationship falls apart (if it was ever there to begin with), and the teenager rebels and wants nothing to do with his parents.

Find the balance
If you follow the Ezzos’ teachings, you will command respect like the authoritarian parent, but you will also choose your battles like the permissive parent. You will have the strength to warn your children of discipline, but you won’t spout empty threats like the threatening, repeating parent. Like the permissive parent, you will consider your relationship and self-esteem, but you won’t let fear guide your parenting. Like the authoritarian parent, you will teach your children to respect your word, but you will also be fair when your child respectfully disagrees.

All this week, I’ll discuss this idea a bit more so you can make sure you are finding the right balance in your parenting attitude.

First-time obedience

First-time obedience is a phrase you commonly hear in Ezzo 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.

Actually achieving first-time obedience isn’t easy. This is another one of those principles that is much harder on the parents than it is on the child. It’s all about what you expect of your child and laying out those expectations clearly. It’s about setting a standard, and in this case, you are setting the standard quite high.

What does first-time obedience look 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?

  • Your child ignores you when you call his name.
  • You repeat your instruction five or 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 today.
  • 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 and your child end the day frustrated and stressed out.


First-time obedience in action: the good

Here’s a real-life example of what first-time obedience looks like. We had been struggling with getting William to settle down during bath time right before bed. It’s my husband’s job to bathe William and put him to bed while I do so with Lucas. Every night, they both would end up frustrated and angry. Every night, my husband would tell William over and over to settle down. Every night, William would get crazy. Every night, my husband would rush through the job just to get it done and get William in bed without further incident. Not a very good relationship-building experience for either of them.

After being reminded by my contact mom and her husband of what was going wrong, my husband immediately fixed the problem. He took a minute to look William in the eye and explain to him that if he got crazy, he would be told one time to settle down. And after that, he would receive a consequence. My husband was very clear on what that consequence would be. And he reiterated, in positive words, what it meant to not be crazy (quiet voice, look at and listen to Daddy, put on your pajamas quickly and compliantly, etc.). This non-conflict training was all that was needed. My husband clearly laid out the rules and William clearly knew what was expected of him. He had one chance and one chance only. William knew he didn’t want the consequence that was being offered, so we got our first-time obedience.

Now if William chose to disobey, my husband would have had no option but to administer the consequence. Following through on what you say is a key component of achieving first-time obedience. If you don’t follow through, your child will realize it, and he will keep pushing you to see how far he can get. Then you quickly slip back into threatening and repeating parenting. So always make sure the consequence you say you will give is a consequence you can give confidently. If the whole family is going to the zoo, and your child acts up in the parking lot after you’ve driven two hours to get there, you don’t want to threaten to go home. If you know you can’t follow through or if it would be unfair to the rest of the family, find a different consequence.

First-time obedience in action: the bad
Recently, we were at a restaurant that had a children’s play area. Nearby sat a family with a young girl (under 3) who wanted to play before she ate her meal. Her father told her repeatedly to sit and eat her meal. Every time he told her to sit down, she did. But she kept getting off her chair over and over. After about the third time of her getting off her chair, she wasn’t so interested in complying with her father’s request to sit down. In an effort to coax her back to the table, the father said that she wouldn’t be able to play if she didn’t eat. Not five seconds after saying this, he asked her if she wanted a time-out.

Now this example shows the good and the bad. It’s good that the father kept insisting that she sit down and eat her meal. Some parents would give up the fight. It’s good that she kept sitting down after being told to do so. But what ultimately confused the girl was the father not being consistent with his consequences. After the third time she got out of her chair, he should have elevated the consequence. They could have gone on all night with her getting out of her chair, being told to sit back down, and her getting back out of her chair again and again. And he shouldn’t have given her two different consequences for the same offense.

This scenario would have looked much different if the father had explained to his daughter before they sat down to eat (or even before entering the restaurant) that she would be expected to sit in her chair until she was done eating. At that point, the father would have also explained to her what the consequence would be if she chose to disobey. With everyone understanding the rules, the girl would have been much more likely to obey and the father would have been more confident with his discipline.

Recognizing what first-time obedience does and doesn’t look like is the first step to achieving it. In my next post, I’ll go into further detail about what exactly what you can do to achieve first-time obedience with your child.

Eye contact

I cannot stress enough how important it is to get eye contact from your child. Imagine how you feel when you are talking to your spouse and he doesn’t look at you. Sure, maybe he hears what you say, but is he truly listening? When my husband does this and I ask him if he’s really listening, he will repeat back the words I just said verbatim. It’s great that he can hear me while not looking at me, but is he truly listening and thinking about what I’m saying? Probably not. And perhaps more important, his lack of eye contact can make me feel like my words are meaningless and not worth listening to. (Fortunately, he doesn’t do this too often.)

The same is true of your interactions with your child. Do you really expect him to listen to you and obey your instruction if he isn’t looking at you while you give it? While an adult is potentially capable of listening without giving eye contact, a child is not. Children tend to focus on one thing at a time. If they are occupied with a toy and not looking at you, they are not listening to you.

Not requiring eye contact is one of the biggest mistakes of the threatening, repeating parent. It is very easy for your child to ignore you if he doesn’t look at you. It is then easy for you to escalate your demands and threats–not to mention your volume. Your child will then tune you out and you get absolutely nowhere. You may end up disciplining your child and you both end up stressed out and in tears. You could find yourself alternating between giving a consequence, repeating your instruction, his continuing to ignore you, more consequences, his lack of focus on the task, etc. You could keep at it for hours–if you haven’t given up by then–and still see little to no progress. Requiring eye contact is such an easy fix to this problem. It’s quick and it starts you off on the right track.

In addition, a lack of eye contact can often mean that a bigger issue of disrespect is at play. Above I mentioned how my husband not giving me eye contact can make me feel like my words are meaningless and not worth listening to. It could be that your child isn’t giving you eye contact because he doesn’t think you are worth listening to. If you are a threatening, repeating parent, your child likely has little to no motivation to look at you or engage in your conversation. If you spout out idle threats and never follow through with what you say, he won’t respect you or take you seriously. He has learned that what you say is not what you mean. He expects you to offer idle threats and start yelling. Who would want to listen to that?

By contrast, a child who offers eye contact regularly is more likely to be obedient. The eye contact shows a respect for your authority and a willingness to obey your instructions. In addition, the child who gives regular eye contact is a pleasure to be around. He is comfortable looking into anyone’s eyes and will even initiate a conversation with another adult.

If you are in the beginning phases of the training process, you may need to physically lift your child’s chin to make him look at you after you call his name and require a “yes, mommy”. If he resists you lifting his chin, you may need to get down on his level and hold his face while you speak to him. Be sure to keep your demeanor calm and don’t manhandle him. If he expects you to be contentious, he will resist you for sure. Don’t let it become a power struggle. If you feel yourself starting to get angry, walk away and work on your anger next time. And by all means, do not give your instruction until you have achieved eye contact.

Even now, after training William for a year and a half in these techniques, there are times when I have to remind him to give me eye contact. When I call his name, he will automatically say “yes, mommy” but sometimes it is so rote that he forgets to look at me, especially when he is engaged with some toy. All I need to do is simply say “eyes” and he will look at me. I don’t repeat his name. I don’t give my instruction. I don’t escalate into threats and anger. I will say just the one word until he looks at me. As soon as he looks at me, I know I have his attention and can move on to giving him my instruction.

If my instruction takes a minute or two to explain, I don’t let him take his eyes off of me until I have finished with my explanation. If the TV is on or for whatever reason he has a hard time maintaining eye contact, I will verbally remind him or gently hold his chin until I am done.

Also, offer your child the same courtesy. If he engages you in conversation, look in his eyes to show him that you think his words are meaningful and that you understand what he is saying. Even if your toddler is speaking gibberish, look at him. You are teaching him the value of eye contact, respect for others and the simple mechanics of having a conversation.