We received quite a number of comments about the “experiment” I did with Eli in our last parenting tips email (read here if you missed it). Most parents reported better outcomes when they approached their kids with a “you can do it” vs. a “do it now” approach. A few stated that it made no difference.
Among those parents who didn’t see any difference, this comment stood out:
“As I paid attention to how mornings go around here, I realized that most of my interactions at the beginning of the day were about getting my son up and out the door on time. It’s all about me getting him to do stuff. So I decided, instead of starting the day by issuing commands, I would spend five playful minutes with him once he was awake. These five playful minutes changed the entire tone of our morning. Now instead of nagging him and getting in power struggles, he mostly just gets himself through the morning. When he bogs down, my reminders are gentler and he responds better.”
So if you’ve struggled to get kids to obey, consider that obedience is often the fruit of good connection. Think about it – how eager are you to please someone who is always trying to get you to do stuff?
Then think – how much more eager are you to do stuff for people when you know they love and appreciate you? Kids thrive on connection – and often (but not always) will respond with obedience if they feel connected. So be sure to make connection a part of your strategy for gaining obedience.
The Problem of Sin
But there is a problem resident in all of us that complicates this whole area of disobedience. We (all of us), carry around what the Apostle Paul calls “the sin that so easily entangles” (Heb 12:1). This sin affects our “perseverance at the race marked out for us” for parenting. Any of us who is honest has to admit, much of our effort with regard to parenting is clouded by our own sin. We get impatient, controlling, and afraid when our kids act up. We get exasperated by our kid’s behavior, and from this place we try to gain obedience. This is precisely when we do what Paul also addresses in Ephesians 6:4 – We exasperate our children. We sin against them. This is one reason that getting kids to obey is hard. After all, who among us feels good about giving in to the selfish or sinful demands of another?
To overcome this dynamic requires repentance – not just once, but again and again. We have seen over and over again that when parents can humbly confess their sin to both God and their children, God’s grace comes to better define the relationships. So give this some thought as you seek to gain obedience.
Of course sin also clouds our children’s response to even the most loving, grace-filled parenting. This is where I think back to Eli (story below). At his core, he didn’t want to submit to my request to bring dishes to the kitchen because he is a selfish sinner. My job, when my child (or anyone else’s) sins, is to do my best to not “sin back.” This is best done by staying calm, and focusing on how to influence obedience without coercing it, which is what I did by encouraging Eli with “You can do it” instead of “Do it now!” Interestingly, I find that when I work hard to guard against my own sin, I become less interested in controlling a child’s behavior (“Do it my way now!), and more interested in influencing it (“You can do it this way or that way, how do you want to do it?”).
When a child persists in disobedience, it takes even more persistence on the part of the parent not to sin in response. Had Eli still chosen to disobey, I would have taken a deep breath, and then calmly let Eli know the consequence of his disobedience. “Eli, if you don’t put the box away now, I will take the box, and you will have a time-out on the chair.” I would do it with a firm but quiet tone. Then, I would calmly follow through if Eli chose disobedience. This is one among many possibilities.
The effort to deal with disobedience can be very complex, and I’m not suggesting there is one easy answer for gaining obedience. I’m simply saying that when I can guard against my own sin when my kids disobey, I am more able to deal lovingly and effectively with my child’s sin.
Want to learn more about these concepts? Download our one-hour recording of a Discipline That Connects workshop.