September 14, 2010

teaching obedience.

WARNING-- read at your own risk.  This post may offend.

while this post is going through my mind, i keep singing the song, "You're so vain, you probably think this POST is about you... don't you?"  I think I heard it on a movie... Cameron Dias?

So, the past week, I have had a VERY SIMILAR conversation with about 7 different mothers.
7 mothers with children ranging in ages from babies to teens... and they all have the same problem.
Through their tears they tell me of their struggle for more charity, more patience, more wisdom, in dealing with their little beasts.
The interesting thing, these woman are the most loving, patient women i know.
Excessively patient.  Admirably patient.
and sometimes, i want to shout at them... you do NOT need more patience.
and then whisper, ever so humbly, you need to teach your children not to be such BRATS.

(oh.  i can't believe i just wrote that.)
My kids are brats too, sometimes.
The thing is, they need to be taught, not just loved and cuddled.
From toddlers to teens... we can spend all our time praying for patience, OR we can attack the bad behavior head on and CHANGE things.
Yes, you will still need patience, but sometimes I want to shout at mothers... Honestly, do you think their kindergarten teacher is going to spend an hour tickling your child's back so that she will stay in time out?  No.
Will your child's middle school teacher allow them to mouth off the way they mouth off to you?  No.
No ONE can stand a toddler that whines and cries about everything.  Not even Mother Theresa.
Love, yes.
But teaching a child that they can behave their worst and still have a loving, sweet, smiling face to look into... that is teaching a child a FALSE sense of reality.
Children who are not taught to obey will not function in society.
Children who are not taught to do things they don't WANT to do, eat things they don't WANT to eat, or behave in socially acceptable ways will have issues as they get older and are required to function.
Even if you home school.  If you are constantly having to use "PATIENCE" when dealing with your child, then ask yourself how they are going to function with other people in society who don't love them like you do?
The answer-- they won't.
And, this is why overly patient mothers often have children that won't interact with other adults.
If you don't teach them to obey, they will not feel comfortable with someone else who expects them to obey.
Someone else who tells them to stop, to say sorry, or to share.  If you haven't taught that behavior, they will not be able to function in appropriate social settings when you are not there.  Kids will think those adults are mean or harsh or scary.  And, a child who isn't taught to obey will have negative interactions with so many people.  You may feel a maternal urge to protect and defend them from these negative interactions... I would suggest, instead of protecting them, TEACH them to obey at home and they will find MANY positive interactions with the world.

Obedience is something that we teach every day, starting when a child is very young.
I don't believe that any mother is not TRYING to teach.
But, sometimes we don't know how!!
It is easy for people to say-- parents, teach your children to be reverent.  But, most parents have already done everything they can think of and they are out of ideas.

I had a teacher say once, "Spanking is for un-creative parents."  So true.
I believe the NUMBER ONE problem with kids today is that parents don't know how to TEACH.

Sometimes we have a more difficult child.  I will say, however, difficult children are not BAD kids, they are kids who "learn differently".  Parents of a hard child just need to learn new ways to TEACH their particular children.
Sometimes, our more difficult children just show us what we need to focus on... but obedience is a general principle.  Never have I seen a completely well-behaved family with one out of control child.  Usually a family has a general sense of obedience or disobedience and one child might carry things to a slightly higher extreme.
That child is quickly labeled the "hard kid".

But really, as mothers, we know when we are drowning... and, usually you can see it in many places.
at church, at the store, when you're on the phone, at meal time, at bedtime, getting ready for school, interacting with siblings or friends, reverence during prayer, compliance doing chores, homework, piano practice, how a child responds when you ask them to do something they don't want to do...  Can you bring your child to visit a home where they just need to sit quietly by your side?  Do they function in social situations?  Can they behave at a fancy restaurant? 

No, you should not be constantly placing your children in situations where they must perform perfectly.  But, children CAN and SHOULD obey sometimes.  They can sit through story-time at the library.  They can sit reverently while the sacrament is being passed.  They can fold their arms, bow their head, and close their eyes during a prayer.  You are not a NAZI mother if you expect obedience.  You are doing it for their own good.  They can sit quietly, they can listen to something that doesn't interest them, they can be respectful of authority and obedient.  If your children only obey when they are at the park, watching a movie, or having free-time then they haven't learned to OBEY.

**Yes, children as a whole will behave worse for their parents then any other person.  So, expect that.  My wise neighbor Maria used to tell me, there are 2 types of families.  1.  Good parents whose kids are perfect at school and beasts at home (kids need a place to relax).  2.  Strict families whose kids are perfect at home and awful at school.  I choose option one.  My kids have NEVER gotten in trouble at school.  They all have straight A's and (except for a few kindergarten calls when Ellie didn't wear underwear, i haven't had to deal with behavior issues at school.)  But, at home, they can be beastly.  And this is why I know that kids can be taught and must be taught.

**Kids are different.  I firmly believe that God sends active, latter-day, more difficult children to Saintly mothers.  I'm not God, and I would send my greatest, strongest spirits to these woman that I see struggling with them.  God sends you strong spirits because He knows you can handle them.  God sends active, strong willed little kiddos into families where they will end up being the Davids and Pauls and George Washingtons and Captain Moronis.  Even though God sent them to you to LOVE, he also sent them to you to TEACH.

So, HOW?  How can we teach our kids obedience??
This is what i think about in my free time.  This is how my brain works, constantly.  I notice a problem and come up with different ways to attack it.  I ALWAYS change my tactics... but there are a few principles that I have learned.

1.  Start young.  Any act where a child does what you ask is teaching obedience.  I love the little songs with motions.  You are not just "playing" with your child, you are teaching them to OBEY.  To copy your actions.
Expect that your child will copy you.  Sing the song and leave a blank so the child can fill in the key word.
Have you seen the Dog Whisperer?  Don't let your babies be the boss, even at play.  God gave you time each day to be eye to eye with your child, changing their diaper, feeding them, dressing them... don't just go through the motions... TEACH THEM to obey.  It is fun.  It is joyful.  It is important for them to learn.  Tell them, touch your nose, when they touch it, tickle them, love them, praise them.  Get the child used to obeying simple commands in play.  "Sit down, stand up, touch your head, give mommy the shoe, let mommy turn the pages of the book."  The more you do this mommy-child dance, the more quickly they will obey in other situations.  They will look to you to see what they should do, you are teaching by your smile and by your frown.  Frowns are just as important.  Age 0 to 5 (i might say 8) are the most important years in teaching obedience.

2.  Be the Gatekeeper.  There are MANY times throughout the day when you have the opportunity to request obedience.  It is the transition times.  Yes, you can watch TV, when your bed is made.  Yes, you can eat breakfast, when you are dressed, shoes and socks, hair done, bed made.  Yes, you can have a drink, when you say please and sit down.  Yes, we can go to the store, when you are buckled.  Yes, I will read you a book, when you clean up your toys.  Yes, you can play on the computer, when your chores are done.  Yes, you can have a warm, gooey, homemade cookie, when your homework is done.  You can say YES with a smile, but do NOT give in until the child has attempted compliance.  You are the gatekeeper, that is powerful.

3.  Pick ONE thing.  Anything.  Sometimes we get overwhelmed and discouraged because we think our kids are ruined or bad, or we think we are failures as parents.  A wise friend told me, people are packages.  You have some great parenting skills packaged with some not so great parenting skills... we all do.  So, don't get overwhelmed (this is SATAN).  Think of it as a project, a FUN project... you are going to teach your child obedience and you are going to start with ONE thing.  Start with teaching PLEASE.  teaching prayer behavior.  teaching them to hold onto the cart in the store.  teaching them to say "Yes Ma'am".  teaching them to touch a part of their body when you ask them to.  teaching them to get dressed.  teaching them to let you change their diaper without having to pin them down.  teaching them to pick up their toys before they play with something else.  teaching them to take one bite of whatever you expect them to take a bite of.  teaching them to sit in time out happily and independently.  teaching them to put their clothes in the hamper when they take them off.  teaching them to practice the piano happily right when they come home from school.  teaching them to put their backpack in the basket when they walk in the door.  teaching them to talk NICELY to you while you help them with their homework.  Pick ONE thing and then ATTACK it.  ALL DAY LONG.  Tell your child what they need to do, tell your husband what you are trying to teach, tell your other children... "We are going to teach Lily to always say PLEASE."  Let them help with the PRAISE.  When you see someone at the store, let them help you praise, "See how nice Leah is holding on to the cart."  Many old ladies will oooo and ahhh with you.  Buy special tic tacs for your pocket (i love tic tacs).  "Oh, wow, you cleared your plate without being asked... here is a sweet treat for you."  (Not every time... but occassionally.  Remember Pavlov's dogs... when you reward sporadically, they still salivated everytime they heard a bell...)  It's a song, it's a game, it's a bed time story, it's a chart, it's what you talk about at the dinner table.
Pray for inspiration, don't doubt yourself... you are NOT teaching them to eat spinach, you are teaching them to OBEY.   Obedience is a great principle. 

This is another book chapter of a blog... I have so many kiddos that everyday I'm teaching obedience to every age level.  I ALWAYS have my ONE THING that I'm trying to teach each child... so, tomorrow I'll give you some more hands on examples.

I hope you do not think I'm judgmental or hypocritical in writing this blog.
Believe me... this POST is about ME.
My kids are NOT perfectly obedient.  No child is.
I am NOT a perfect mother.  No one is.
But, I am a TEACHER.  This is how my brain works, it is what i think about in my spare time.
I like the BEASTS the best.
And, God has given me my fair share of BEASTLY children.
I have learned how to put my children to bed because I had 4 children in 4 years and NO SLEEP for 4 years.
I learned how to teach them because I had to, or I would die.
I have learned how to teach reverence on Sundays because my children were OUT OF CONTROL.
I had to learn or I would have had to stop going to church.
My mother is a good mother, but I did not have an ideal childhood. 
I could not just do what my mother did.

I had to study, watch other families, read books, read articles and PRAY.
{I prayed for patience for MANY years.}And, I have gathered some ideas.
But, what I have learned more than anything else is...
God knows your child better than you do.
He knows how to teach them and He will teach you how to teach them, if you ask him.
Just, PLEASE ask the right question.

STOP praying for patience.
and START praying for wisdom to teach your kids... so you won't NEED so much patience.


Jaidi Clayton said...


Thank you! I so needed this today! I have spent many nights praying for patience...the way the Lord seems to teach me patience is by giving me more opportunities to be patient and unfortunately, thus far it has not been overly effective. I need to learn how to teach better and more effectively. Thank you for your thoughts and advise.

I love reading your blogs and look forward to each new post. Thanks for being such an excellent writer!

LAURA said...

a good reminder, thanks!

Anonymous said...

Needed this! Thank you!!

Heather said...

i completely agree with you... i like the 'pray for wisdom instead of patience.' well - how 'bout i pray for both. :)

does this apply to 2-year-olds? just kidding. i just had a major episode with my beastly boy. sigh... we just keep trying daily to make a step with obedience.

thanks for sharing your thoughts.

beckyjune said...

Thanks so much for your insights. I always learn something from you and I'm grateful for that even if you don't know...I have tried many a suggestion from you.

Kerri said...

Really beautifully said, and I am grateful to be reminded that it is not BAD parenting to sometimes make your children unhappy. :)

The Sheppard Bunch said...

This was great! Thanks for posting!!!

Alison said...

Thank you Jen! I just prayed for patience on my way out of my bedroom door this morning to begin the day and 10 minutes later I had a crying daughter because I was too frustrated with her to finish doing her hair for school. And I've been feeling like a failure mother all morning because I was not patient with her. She definitely needs to be taught how to obey. So much to think about.... Thank you so much!

The Tremendous Thomas Family said...

Oh wise one Jen!! I am in a moment in mothering where I feel I can fail miserably or take on the challenge. Maybe it is the adjustment to four I don't know but I am reading, praying, reading and then I read your blog and it is GREAT!! I am on the chapter in Love and Logic about saying yes and I think you are a far better writer and you are a mother which makes it even better coming from you!!! Thanks as usual!!

Liza said...

Thank you and pass the Kleenex! You are a tremendous teacher.

Evaly said...

Recently found your blog from handsfullmom and I just wanted to say thank you for sharing your insights. You have helped me to feel more grateful and excited about mothering. This post is just what I needed to read today. I wrote a little thing about you on my blog. I know many of my friends would love your blog too! Take care :)

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