Raising Truly Obedient Children

Who doesn't want obedient children?

What parent isn't delighted when they instruct their child to do something and the child faithfully carries it out?

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Oh yes, parents know all about obedience. To many, it's the holy grail of character training. Capture it and you've obtained the key that will turn your children into upright, happy, productive adults.

Except, this may or may not be true.

Don't get me wrong – as parents we want to train our children to be obedient; but there are a few things that we can do to make obedience, as a character attribute, less desirable and ultimately less valuable than you might think.

The Wrong Kind of Obedience

First off, and most obviously, it's only good for your child to be obedient if your asking them to do things that are right.

Hopefully we don't need to explore this here, but not all parents are good parents. Some parents ask things of their children that they should not be asking. Obedience in these situations is not a desirable trait, though it's no fault of the children. 

Don't abuse your limited authority, parents. Though God has ordained that your children should be in submission to you, it does not follow that you can ask them to do absolutely anything you want. God will not hold us guiltless if we overstep our bounds.

"And whoso shall receive one such little child in my name receiveth me. But whoso shall offend one of these little ones which believe in me, it were better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and that he were drowned in the depth of the sea." Matthew 18:5,6

Second, we have to make sure our children are obeying us for the right reasons. That is, do they obey us because they love and respect us?

The man never smiled, and neither did his children. They just hovered close by him, hardly ever looking up as we talked. My heart ached for them.

Or is it simply because they're intimidated, even scared?

I've known many children like this, and you can see it all over their faces. The main reason why they obey their parents is because they're scared to death of them.

Recently, a father and two of his children (probably ages 9 and 12) visited our booth at a convention. I could instantly tell he was a stern man. Two things gave him away – his strict manner and the delicate almost defeated look on his children's faces.

The man never smiled, and neither did his children. They just hovered close by him, hardly ever looking up as we talked. My heart ached for them.

I'm guessing there was plenty of obedience in that household;

But very little joy.

You might not be surprised to learn the one thing at our table that this man was interested in (I know I wasn't) – The Disobedience Chart. Honestly, I wanted to tell him to hit the road.

Let me be clear – we believe correction is a necessary component of raising children; but it's not the best way to instill obedience in them, not by a long shot.

Go Where They Are

The best way to teach obedience is by precept and example. Clearly, this father didn't understand this and his children were suffering on account of it.

When you teach your children by precept and example, something wonderful happens. It may take weeks or months or even years, but oftentimes, by and by, your desires become their desires. And when your desires become their desires, they begin to want what you want.

It's worth noting that this is precisely how our Heavenly Father teaches us. He sent his Son to not only preach the gospel but to live it out before us. Jesus taught by precept and by example.

We don't always do this. Some parents never do this. They give instructions and leave their children to it, never really showing them how to carry them out.

We hear, “Folded laundry makes me happy and this won’t take any time at all.” They hear, “Folded clothes are overrated. I much prefer a good game of tag.”

The problem is we have difficulty putting ourselves in their shoes. When we say, "Fold the laundry," to us, that's a simple enough task. We've done it hundreds of times. But to a 5 or 8 or even 10 year old, it's not that simple.

For one thing, they don't value neatly folded laundry like we do so it's not as important to them. Secondly (and this should go without saying) they aren't as capable as us. A task that might take us 10 minutes could very well take them 30 minutes, or much longer.

So when we ask them to fold the laundry, what we hear and what they hear can be two very different things and that's where the situation begins to break down. We hear, "Folded laundry makes me happy and this won't take any time at all." They hear, "Folded clothes are overrated. I much prefer a good game of tag."

How to fix this? Go where they are. Jump in there and fold alongside them. Show them how to fold a shirt, how to fold towels, how to crease a pair of pants and put them on a hanger. Remember! They don't value these things like you do and they aren't as capable as you are.

You have to show them. And once you show them, chances are you'll have to show them again, and again, and again...

The Spark of True Obedience

We all need help from time to time. We're almost always stronger working alongside someone as opposed to working alone.

To be sure, there will come a time when your children will work alone, and they need to be able to do that; but to get them to that point, they're going to need some hand-holding, some encouraging words, some "going where they are" on your part.

Few of us grew up with an innate desire to mop floors, scrub toilets, fold laundry, mow lawns, wash dishes, organize junk drawers etc, etc. If we're being honest, most of us still don't enjoy those things; but there is joy to be found in work, and more particularly, in a job well done.

Guess what? Your children can discover that joy at an early age. Some may take longer than others, but it's our job to stick with them until they do. And when the light bulb finally lights up; when the bell finally rings, you'll know it because your children will start to exhibit obedience in a much higher form.

We have a term for this form of obedience. It's called initiative and when you children embrace it it's one of the most beautiful things you'll ever see in them.

But that's a post for another day.