Monday, September 17, 2012

Inspiring Great Character III: Thoughts on Obedience

This is Part 3 in my series on character, click to read Part I and Part II.

I have received a lot of questions on obedience and how to teach it. I would like to start this post with a disclaimer:

I am not a parenting expert.
I do not have any fancy degrees to support my theories.
My kids are not perfectly obedient.
I don't know your kid and I can't guarantee what will work for them.
So don't send me any hate mail if you see my son behaving poorly at a play date. It's all a work in progress, people!

Okay, now that we have that out of the way, I would love to elaborate on obedience. 

Let's start by talking about disobedience. What is is really? In my house, disobedience occurs when a child willfully and knowingly rebels against what they have been instructed. As the parent, we have to be sure that we are clear our expectations and consistent in our reactions.

On Saturday my little Man-Cub opened a bottle of nail polish sideways and it glugged out all over his hands, feet and my couch. While the whole situation was pretty frustrating, he was not disobeying. He had never been told "Don't open nail polish." Was it poor behavior? Yes. But it was not willful disobedience, it was simply one of the learning experiences that goes with childhood.

So what do you do in one of these situations? Take it through a series of questions, then react.
  1. Have I instructed my child against this behavior?
  2. If yes, was I clear about my expectations?
  3. If yes to 1 and 2, have the natural consequences served as sufficient correction?

If the situation doesn't pass through question one or two, the behavior was probably just a "kid thing." I can't ignore it or condone it, but it requires teaching and correcting, not discipline.
If the behavior does pass through questions one and two, it requires teaching, correcting and then (if the answer to question 3 is "no") discipline.
The natural consequence often does the job of discipline. A completely extreme example would be; You tell your child not to touch the stove burner. They disobey you and touch it anyway. They are now in pain from being burned. You spank them and scream at them. The spanking and screaming are not necessary, the natural consequence of the burn taught the lesson that you needed it to.

So how can I teach my child to obey?
I have to teach him what obedience is, and why it is important. 

Obey means that "I listen and I do it!" (clap hands when you say "do it!")
Teach this little phrase to your kids. Practice it with them. Ask them frequently "what does 'obey' mean?" And remind them to be obedient. An example would be saying "Man-Cub, Mommy needs you to pick up those blocks. Please obey me. What does obey mean?" (wait for response) "Great! Now, what did I ask you to do? Thanks for obeying me!"

The WHY:
I always try to explain why obedience is important. "Mommy and Daddy are the boss around here. We all  have to do what our bosses say. Everything we tell you to do is important. We ask you to obey us because we know what is best for you, we love you, and we want you to grow up to be the awesome person we know you can be."

After my kid learned the basic definition of obedience and was pretty clear on the importance of obeying, I needed to teach him how to obey. I addressed this a little bit in Part II. I taught him the little rhyme Obey right away!
Instant obedience is crucial to my sanity.
I remind him to be joyful when he is obeying. Keep a happy attitude!
And now, we are working on being thorough in our obedience. Do the very best you can!

Like I said before, it's all a work in progress. We have multiple instances of disobedience in our home every day. But I can feel good about the fact that we are working on it. I can't just hope that when he is a little older, or a little more mature, all of these character qualities will just fall into place. Good character does not come naturally, it has to be taught. So keep on teaching it diligently!

I love comments! Please share what you do to teach character or a story about obedience, I would love to hear it!

1 comment:

  1. We teach our daughter that obedience means doing what she's told "The first time, quickly, all the way, and with a good attitude." It's not just enough for them to do it--- I've found (with her especially) that sluggishness and grumpiness are her way of being defiant while following the "letter" of what we said...
    It's definetly at daily struggle, though! Especially at her age (almost 3) where she is just itching to test every boundary... some days she's an angel, and some days it feels like ALL I do is correct her!