“I’m going to count to three! One….two….three….four…”
“If you don’t come here right now, you’re going to get a spanking!”
“You don’t want to come? Okay, I’m leaving without you… here we go….I’m walking out the door…”
These, among many others, are discipline delay tactics. On the surface, the purpose of these statements is to offer the child a second chance to obey, but in actuality the point is release the parent from the responsibility of disciplining. Discipline isn’t fun for the child or the parent, so they are hoping to avoid it by giving the child more opportunities to obey.
The problem is that delaying discipline is inherently destructive to instilling an understanding of actual obedience.
Repeating commands muddles the concept of obedience. True obedience is first time obedience. This means that the first time a request is made, the child responds appropriately. Anything short of that is not actually obedience – it’s a negotiation. By accepting that a child may need to be convinced or cajoled into following instruction, we are teaching them that obedience is a compromise involving our command and their will.
Failing to follow through devalues the parent’s word. Matthew 5:37 tells us that our yes should mean yes and our no mean no. It is important to keep our word – even to our children. If we convey an expectation (in this case, obedience) but fail to enforce it, how good is our word? If we are not found to be truthful on the little things, how then will they trust us when it comes to the big things? Establishing authority, instilling trust, and achieving obedience from our children all require that we follow through each and every time disobedience occurs.
Suggestions for achieving first time obedience:
Set Clear Expectations: This starts with communicating to them what real obedience is and our expectation. In our home, obedience means following instruction the first time it’s given and doing it without delay.
Make Eye Contact: If a child isn’t looking at you while you’re talking to them, there is a high chance they aren’t listening. Instead of hollering instruction from across the room, call the child’s name and wait for them to look directly at you before you give the command.
Speak calmly: Resist the urge to convey urgency or frustration by speaking rapidly or loudly. Children listen better when you maintain a calm, slow, quiet tone.
Be Clear: Try to state your instruction in as few words as possible. This is especially true with younger kids. Even 10 month olds are capable of understanding the word “No”, but good luck getting them to comprehend statements like “Uh-oh, that’s not safe for you to be touching, okay?” Be concise.
Require a response: Once they are old enough to talk, require children to acknowledge your instruction by responding with a “yes, mama” or something of the sort. As with responses like “please” and “thank you”, they will not remember to do this the first time or even the hundredth time you tell them to. Expect to remind them how they should respond many, many times before they start doing it naturally.
Address disobedience: When the child fails to obey, there must be a consequence. The consequence can vary – in cases of deliberate disobedience you might firmly discipline while in cases of childishness or forgetfulness you might simply pull them aside and have a conversation. You must be consistent insomuch as you always address the disobedience, not that how you address it must always be the same. The point is that you hold firm on your expectations of obedience, never allowing cases of disobedience to slide by unacknowledged.
Remember, delaying discipline in the present hinders obedience over the long term. Take the time to discipline for disobedience now and you will have significantly fewer instances of disobedience that have to be addressed in the future.