“What does Connected Families teach about obedience?” Hannah, who was exasperated with her defiant preschooler’s flighty behavior in a parking lot, explained the context for her question:
When I was leaving Bible study I asked my 3-year-old to stay with me, or hold my hand, or I could carry him. He said he wanted to walk next to me, but then ran off several times, despite my request to “Stop now, and come to me please.” Each time I would pick him up, remind him to stay with me if he wasn’t going to hold my hand. He bucked his body and threw his hands in my face. When I got him to the car my anxiety escalated into an angry lecture – which he ignored, while his big brother giggled at the whole fiasco. Help! What could I have done differently?
Connected Families believes that learning obedience is a long process rooted in love, trust and a parent’s wise guidance. This follows the biblical model of how we learn obedience to God — not out of fear but out of understanding how much God loves us, combined with experiencing the natural result when we disobey his wise commands (Galatians 6:7). The more we learn, the more we trust that God has really good reasons for what he tells us to do.
So let’s put that theology to the test with a feisty 3-year-old going A.W.O.L.
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When our kids do something they’re not supposed to, or ask us for something they can’t have, often our reflexive response is a simple, quick, “No!” And our kids’ reflexive response to “no” can be frustration, resentment, or even a meltdown.
But a look at the Bible gives us another way to respond to our kids — one that still enforces boundaries, but helps kids to grow in wisdom even through the “no”.
One of the biggest deterrents to effective discipline is that parents get upset. They then use their big upset emotions to push outcomes.
The younger kids are, the more this works to manage behavior. But over time, as kids tire of this pushing, they either start pushing back, or they tire of trying and learn to comply to get on with life – not because they value right behavior, but because they don’t want to get in trouble.
I remember like yesterday walking in the door after work to what I believed were out-of-control children in my wife’s care. She’d lean into me for help and I’d quickly get the kids in line. “Why can’t Lynne get this?” I’d wonder.
Over time, however, I started seeing things a bit differently. As my kids grew older my seeming ability to quickly control them began to waver, and particularly my daughter seemed less interested in being alone with me.
I grew in my understanding about what had been going on all these years on the day my daughter rushed to her mother in tears because I had “yelled” at her. In my mind I had not even raised my voice, but was just getting firm in order to get her to behave.
Two things happened that day that helped reshape my thinking.
I am struggling with a tween who often says no to my requests. She is a good girl most of the time, but she will be disrespectful to me and I have no idea what appropriate/related consequences to give her when she tells me “no” and then in essence dismisses me by looking back down at her book, ipod, etc. I try to remain calm but when I tell her this is a warning and that she will have a consequence for not obeying, she will look at me and ask what it is. And normally say, “oh well, no big deal” and still not obey me. I also realize that hormones are playing a part in her behavior but she cannot say no to me when I ask her to do something. HELP!!! Normally she will apologize later that night when we are praying together but she still didn’t do whatever I asked.
As a child (and even as a young adult), I really struggled with having grace for people who either didn’t or couldn’t follow the rules. Kids who did poorly or misbehaved in school, my younger sister who was less “shiny” than I was, non-believers, or even people who just didn’t have it as “together” as I thought they should — I was outwardly humble, but inside I looked down on them with condescension and self-righteousness. Why couldn’t they just follow these simple rules?
I’ll never forget her statement. I was speaking to a grade-school teacher in a Christian school about behavior problems with her students. In the context of the conversation she actually seemed more upset about the obedient kids than the defiant ones.
She declared, “I can always tell the kids parented by strict parents who follow parenting programs that demand first-time obedience. They do what you say but take no risks. They won’t give answers unless they know they’re right.The kids who fight back, they are usually the bold ones, the creative ones, the energetic ones. Many of them are leaders. I love the chance to shape these kids!”
Have you ever noticed that kids rarely misbehave when they feel truly happy and deeply secure? There’s a reason for this.
When our children misbehave, there is almost always underlying discouragement or anxiety that drives the misbehavior. Rushing to address the misbehavior without understanding the discouragement often backfires, in one of two ways:
It fuels the power struggle flames and misbehavior escalates.
The intensity of effort to make it stop “works” to curb misbehavior in the short run, but feeds the discouragement, which feeds further misbehavior in the long run.