Teaching Obedience to Children
by Nellie Shani
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What does obedience really mean and how can parents teach their children to obey? According to the Oxford Dictionary, to obey means to comply with the command, direction or request of a person (in this case, the parents). It also means to behave in accordance with a principle or a law. God has given parents and guardians the responsibility of teaching their children that in this world they will always encounter laws. Children need to learn that there will always be laws and rules to be obeyed in the normal course of living in this world (E.G driving on the right side of the road, not stealing, not fighting, washing our hands before eating E.T.C) and that there is an unpleasant consequence when laws are not obeyed. They also need to learn that rules are set in place for their protection, when they are old enough to understand this. Parents are to teach this principle first within their homes. The first simple rules are that there is a time to sleep, a time to play and a time to eat.
Parents need to set down very clear rules about acceptable behavior within their homes, and teach their children to comply with these rules, realizing that without a rule, there cannot be disobedience. A child cannot be accused of disobeying his or her parents where rules have not yet been set and clearly communicated to the child. Children do not control the home or set the rules - The parents do. Once the parents have set the rules, they must also clearly indicate to their children the consequences for disobeying these rules. The onus is on the parents to be consistent in enforcing obedience, and also in enforcing the punishment.
It is believed that the greatest harm that is done to children, is where there is lack of consistency. One moment Jimmy disobeys his parents and is punished, and the next time he does the same thing and is not punished. As can be expected, this takes a lot of discipline and commitment on the parents’ part.
When our children were much younger, my husband and I set down rules in our home that we expected our children to obey. When they disobeyed us, we punished them through spanking (three strikes on the butt, and always in private), only after asking them if they knew why we were spanking them. I still remember asking them, “Why am I going to spank you?” We would then wait for them to tell us why we were going to spank them. I remember many times when one of our children would disobey and I would not feel like punishing them because it took a lot of effort to take them to a private place and engage them in conversation. I would however remind myself that I needed to be consistent.
Our son is 24 years old now and he still reminds us how much he hated it when we would ask him if he knew why he was being punished! He has however said that he will do the same thing with his children because he feels that we clearly communicated to him that we were not spanking him because we hated him but out of love for him. This truth is espoused in Proverbs 13: 24 – “He who spares the rod hates his son, but he who loves him is careful to discipline him.”
In the account of the conversation between Jimmy and his father, one can see how many principles have been violated. It should have been made clear to Jimmy that he does not touch medicine bottles under any circumstances. The fact that he is asking his father, means that it is not clear to him whether he is allowed to pour himself some medicine or not. His father is a poor coach, who ignores his “student’s” questions. Jimmy’s father says, “Haven’t I always told you to be obedient?” yet does not make it clear what he has to obey and the consequences for disobedience. His father tells Jimmy that next time he does the same thing he will punish him. If there is a rule that Jimmy has disobeyed then why is he not punishing him now? The answer is that dad is more interested in reading about the stock market than he is in teaching his son to obey.
Finally, parents must make a distinction between disobedience and mistakes. Children should not be punished for mistakes, but for disobedience – “I clearly told you not to do this, but you have done it so you will bear the consequences.” There is a difference between a child carrying a glass across the room, tripping on something and falling down, breaking the glass, and a child who breaks the glass in the process of playing with it at the table while he is supposed to be eating. He should only be punished in the second case if it has been clearly indicated to him prior to the incident, that he is not to play at the table but to eat his food. He should also have been told what punishment he will receive, should he be caught playing at the table instead of eating his food.
Why am I belaboring this point? We need to understand that how a person later on behaves in society is a reflection of how he was taught to behave as a child while he or she was still moldable. Unfortunately many of our jails are full of people who were never taught about the consequences of bad behavior when they were growing up. There is a Swahili saying that goes “Asiye funzwa na mamaye ata funzwa na dunia” – He who is not taught by his mother will be taught by the world!
Nellie Shani lives in California with her husband and three children. She has been writing articles for the last fifteen years. Her first book, "Stand Your Ground," is now available on amazon.com and on her author's website: http://www.strategicpublishinggroup.com/title/StandYourGround.html
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