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Teaching ObedienceThe Basics and Before     << Ch. 3 >>
"For I, too, am a man under authority, with soldiers
under me; and I say to this one, 'Go!' and he goes,
and to another, 'Come!' and he comes..."
- Matthew 8:9

Teaching obedience so you don�t have to teach anything else.
In our home, we begin training our children to conform to the image of God when they are still small by teaching only one thing - that they must always obey us with a willing and pleasant spirit. When we start with just that one thing, we don't have to do much else. What could be more simple? Once your child understands obedience, everything else is pretty much taken care of. Henceforth, you can simply ask him to come to you and he will. You can ask him to pick up his toys and he will. You can ask him to get ready for bed and he will trot off and do so. You can even ask him to "stop crying," and he will stop. Simple. Obedience is really all you need to teach a little one.

Yes, maintenance work upon on occasion will be necessary, and you will still have to do much teaching and guiding, but do you see the potential? Once you've convinced your child that his rightful duty is to obey his parents, not them him, the need for discipline will virtually disappear. You won�t be correcting your child every few minutes as you might envision, but only very rarely, and usually a simple verbal rebuke will be enough. Since the big Parent Vs. Child power struggle will be over, you�ll be able to spend the vast majority of your time enjoying your child the way you�ve always hoped to, teaching him the things that are important to you and sharing with him the things you both find interesting. This is the way parenting was intended to be.

The conclusion, when all has been heard, is: fear God and keep His commandments, because this applies to every person. 
- Ecclesiastes 12:13-14

What first?
Laura: Okay, I've thrown out all my popular feel-good parenting books and I'm ready to begin all over. What should I train for first? My child doesn�t come when he�s called, can�t sit still in church, constantly touches things he should not, and I just don�t know how to handle his awful temper tantrums. Where do I start and what do I do?

Elizabeth: There really is no order, just a starting date. Remember that you are not teaching a series of tasks, but obedience in general. Pick a date and commit yourself to keeping your child near you and training diligently from that moment onward. Enjoy your child and encourage him in all he does well and right. Correct him every time he resists obeying you. Then keep it up.

There. That ought to do it. 

Okay, okay, I'll elaborate. For example, if your day is moving along smoothly, then suddenly your toddler refuses to come when you call him, stop what you are doing and take the time to train him to do as you asked and come to you. Don�t allow him to do anything else until he obeys you. Don�t back down or give up until he comes to you willingly and quickly about three times in a row. Then, once he is again obeying you nicely, let him go back to playing. Or better yet, spend some time teaching and enjoying him. 

If, fifteen minutes later, you ask him to give back the toy he just grabbed from his brother, and he refuses and begins whining, stop what you are doing, take up the challenge and see that he does what you asked him to. Then require him to do it over again until he does it without whining. And so on. Correct and train him as each and every new difficulty arises. Spank if needed, reward with approval and affection when he is obeying well. Remember that your child�s heart attitude is more important than his physical actions, so don�t overlook pouting, whining, and other displays of a rebellious spirit. Treat those things just as you would any other wrong behavior. It is simply a wrong behavior of the heart.

It doesn't matter what you train for first. You are training your child to obey you agreeably, as he should. You are not training him to come, or to hand over a toy, or to sit still on your lap, or to do or not do any other individual task. You are training for obedience, and if you train for obedience, you won't have to train for anything else.

As far as tantrums go, any conflict over anything, can and likely will, turn into a tantrum if you suddenly begin insisting your untrained child obey you. That's GREAT! That's WONDERFUL! These other things are usually just small battles, whereas a tantrum is closer to a full-scale war. Would you rather win a few little battles or the whole war? Look forward to the tantrums and other major displays of stubbornness and willfulness, as opportunities to win a whole war. If you win a few tantrum wars (and you must), the little skirmishes will just disappear, and so will the tantrums.

"Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right."
- Ephesians 6:1

Before You Discipline
Now I can hear my readers saying, �That was too simple, too general, too much of a condensed version. How do we really do it? Give us details. Give us a list. Tell us where exactly to begin. HOW do I teach my toddler to obey me?� Alright, I will get to specifics and examples in the next chapter, but first I want to cover some important areas that need to be pondered before you begin training and kept in mind all the while you are training. These things apply to children of all ages, and actually become more important the older your children become, since older children are not so forgiving, so please do not neglect them. 

Some are specifics, like asking yourself a few discerning questions before you discipline, and like speaking softly and being consistent, while others are generalities like how to encourage your child with the proper type and amount of praise, and how to overcome parental anger with childish behavior. After we cover these preparatory issues, I will give a very brief, seven step �how to� plan for toddler training, then continue forward in the following chapter with plenty of details and examples to help you along. 

How blessed is the man who finds wisdom, and the man who gains understanding.
- Proverbs 3:13

When to Discipline
Although most of us tend to expect too little of our children rather than too much, we should still ask ourselves some questions before disciplining, in order to eliminate any possibility of disciplining unjustly, as warned against in Ephesians 6:4. Did my child understand me? Is he capable of doing what I asked? Is there some underlying problem that needs correcting first? Am I being consistent? Am I looking at actions only, or at my child's heart and working to correct what is inside? Am I correcting because I am angry, or because I truly want what is best for my child? Such questions, asked before disciplining, will enable you to know when to discipline, and when to overlook childish errors. When you do discipline, they will help you determine the best type of correction for each child in each particular situation. Never discipline according to a fixed list of rules without regard to special or unique circumstances. Use your God-given common sense to apply discipline with justice and mercy. 

"...For I knew that Thou art a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abundant in lovingkindness, and one who relents concerning calamity."
- Jonah 4:2

No Yelling Allowed
When you correct your child, do not raise your voice. We've all heard parents who call, "Bobby? Bob� BOB� ROBERT! COME HERE RIGHT NOW!" When you do it that way, all you are doing is training your child not to obey you until you raise your voice. He knows you won�t do anything about his disobedience until then, so why should he bother to obey prior to the last second? Don't do it like that. Pause before you direct, and think about how you�d really like to be able to instruct your child and still get a cooperative prompt response. Wouldn�t you like to be able to just use your regular voice? To just ask politely one time and get a positive, willing reply? Then train your child with that in mind. Call and instruct him in your regular voice. Do not call him twice if you know he heard you the first time. Get up and correct him if he doesn't respond promptly and correctly to your first call. Be firm with your voice if necessary, but always be as consistently calm and pleasant as possible. Paul M. Landis, in The Responsibility of Parents in Teaching and Training Their Children says, "Consistency with gentleness, a quiet manner and voice, and firmness, rather than anger with a loud, high-pitched voice, will convince a child of our sincerity and purpose." I couldn�t agree more.

By forbearance a ruler may be persuaded, and a soft tongue breaks the bone.
- Proverbs 25:15

The degree of success you achieve will be directly related to how consistent you are. Don't get lazy. Don't give up. Don't make excuses. Don�t be �on again, off again� about training your children. Keep your children with you and watch them, correcting all disobedience and bad attitudes. Say what you mean and mean what you say. Don't be afraid to set high standards and maintain them. Teach and train your children, then expect them to act in a godly manner. Require them to always act the way you would like them to act, and the way you believe God would like them to act, not the way others may let their children act. Be consistent in your training and in your expectations.

Consistency does not mean "do exactly the same thing with every child" or "discipline the same exact way in every instance." Not every child has the same personality or emotional makeup. Not every circumstance is the same. The age of the child will factor in. Some children are more strong-willed and stubborn than others. A child's motivation will vary from time to time and incident to incident. Some children have been in the habit of rebellion longer than others. These and other things must be taken into consideration as you determine how to handle each child and situation, but this should not interfere with true consistency. Consistency really means that every time your child requires correction, you get up and do it, remaining there to supervise and outlast until the message gets across. Instead of trying to handle each child and event uniformly, try to envision the end result you want, and then adjust your methods to get each child there in each situation. Strive to be �consistent� about not overlooking anything you ought to be correcting for.

He who spares his rod hates his son, but he who loves him disciplines him diligently.

- Proverbs 13:24

My Change to Consistency
I remember a specific day years ago when my oldest three children were still young. I was talking to a friend on the phone, and I remember telling the caller that I could hear my little daughter jumping on the couch in the other room, and that I "really should go stop her...." Then it hit me. Yes, that's exactly what I needed to do in order to begin seeing some lasting results in my efforts to raise godly children. I needed to stop talking to my friends on the phone, and go correct my daughter every single time she needed it. That would be true consistency, and I hadn�t been doing it.

So, I decided to change. I resolved to make consistency my top priority. I stopped running unnecessary errands, stopped over-indulging in my hobbies, stopped making excessive social phone calls, and set my mind diligently and consistently, on training my children. I continued with the normal mandatory tasks of life, such as basic housekeeping, laundry, and cooking, but even as I did those things, I kept in mind that my children were my top priority, not a fancy dinner or a spotless house. I gathered my children close to me so I could always see and hear them, then I stopped what I was doing and promptly corrected them, every time they needed it.

At first there were numerous corrections necessary and I had my doubts about the strategy, but very soon there was noticeable improvement in the way they responded to me. The worst was over after only a few days, and hardly any major disciplining was needed after the first few weeks. By the end of the third month, I had a new family. They had, in just that short amount of them, acquired a whole new respect for me and for my words. It was a miracle, produced mostly the simple consistency that God instructs us to use!

Therefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your toil is not in vain in the Lord.
- I Corinthians 15:58

Not Always Disciplining
If you find yourself perpetually disciplining, it is likely that you are not watching your child. If you are not watching your child you can not be truly consistent. If you correct a child ten times and then skip once, you will have undone everything you accomplished on the last ten occasions. Now, if you correct diligently one hundred times and then overlook some minor transgression, it won't take long to reestablish order, but remember, you must be consistent one hundred times in a row first. Are you doing this?

Now I don't mean you should have to correct your child a hundred times for the same thing. That�s not it at all. Just one hundred times for any disobedience of any kind - IN A ROW. You have to convince your child that he must always obey you, before you can overlook an occasional infraction without it resulting in a major behavioral relapse. By then, it is very likely that you will have trained his conscience to the point where it will admonish him even if you don't.

Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me.
- Psalms 51:10

Love in Parenting
When I first began writing about child rearing, I focused mostly on discipline because so many parents were failing in that area. They loved their children, but didn't know how to discipline them. Then I began receiving criticism for "never writing about loving your children". OY!

As I reflected on these complaints, I realized that I had assumed that loving and enjoying children was a simple, natural phenomenon commonly understood and universally practiced by all parents. I didn�t think I needed to write about it! Wrong. I now realize, that there are indeed well-intentioned parents who go overboard with discipline, standards, and structure, but are wholly ignorant about how to express love to their children. With that in mind, I began including advice on this most mandatory part of successful child rearing � loving your child.

If your children are models of perfect behavior, but starved for love, they will eventually turn from you and probably from God as well. Don't let that happen. Learn to love, and express that love, to your children. Build a relationship with them of the sort that will encourage them to want to obey you and eventually the Lord. Keeping your children close to you via Tomato Staking, will make this possible.

Remember, O LORD, Thy compassion and Thy lovingkindnesss, for they have been from of old.
- Psalms 25:6

Tomato Staking with Love
Beside making it possible to watch and correct your children, Tomato Staking makes it possible to nurture your children with love. Keep your children with you. Hug, kiss, sing, laugh and play with them. Include them in the things you are doing. Smile at them when they come to you to show you something. Welcome their attention. Answer their questions. Invite them into your lap for a cuddle. Let them crawl into your bed and snuggle up to you now and then. When they ask to help you, say, "Sure." Joke and laugh with them. Share with them your sense of humor. Be interested in the things they are interested in and be excited about their accomplishments as you tutor them in all of God�s ways. Get to know them and let them get to know you. Can a child who is the constant recipient of such joyful companionship ever doubt that he is deeply and profoundly loved? I don�t think so.

I know that all moms are beset with endless chores and duties, but these should never take precedence over your children. If you are Tomato Staking with an abundance of love, you will soon find that discipline consuming a progressively diminishing portion of your time, freeing you up for those chores. So especially when you are first starting out, set aside what tasks you can, and address your child�s needs for both discipline and love, whenever they arise.

Draw near to God and He will draw near to you.
- James 4:8

Guarding Your Child's Trust
If you love your children, you will discipline them when needed. But when you discipline, you must do so justly and without anger. The Bible says not to "provoke your children to wrath". We must be certain that we are just in the way we treat our children. The following checklist of questions will help you determine if your discipline is appropriate and just, or whether you are at risk of provoking your children to wrath.

1. Do you betray your child's trust and confidence by ignoring an infraction one day, then punishing for the same infraction the next? Or do you consistently watch and correct them whenever needed?
2. Do you emotionally unsettle your children by praising them one minute, then yelling at them the next? Or do you control your own emotions and consistently address them with calmness and peace?
3. Do you constantly pick on your children for trivial transgressions? Or do you consistently show love and affection the majority of the time?
4. Do you spring unreasonable demands on your children without warning? Or do you let them know clearly what is expected of them ahead of time if at all possible?
5. Do you discipline them just as severely for a simple accident as you do for outright defiance, or are you appropriately merciful when an innocent mistake occurs?
6. Are you unreasonably regimented for no good reason? Or are you flexible and understanding when possible?
7. Are you always suspicious or your children�s motives, conveying it by constant accusations and criticisms? Or do you trust your children when they've earned your trust, and let them know it by your words, smiles and the privileges you allow them? 
8. Do you emotionally abuse your children with unnecessary shaming, belittling, and manipulation? Or are you reasonable, straightforward and direct when dealing with them?
9. Do you leave your children feeling that no matter how hard they try, they can never quite measure up anyway? Or do they know they will receive your approval as long as they make a sincere effort to do what is right?
10. Are you a critical, controlling ogre? Or the pleasant loving parent you ought to be?
How you treat your children in all of these things will profoundly determine the quality of your relationship with them. One thing is absolutely certain: a good relationship will lay a foundation for the growth of true Christian character in our children, and of a close relationship between them and God Himself in the future. A poor parent/child relationship will almost certainly frustrate and undermine the development of the godliness that is the goal of our sacred labors. An unjust, unkind and unreasonable parent can easily lead our children to reject the Lord completely in the end . Please take this to heart and build a close loving relationship with your child that models the relationship our Lord offers us.

And, fathers, do not provoke your children to anger; but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.
- Ephesians 6:4

The Essential Element of Praise
Reasonable praise is an important part of the way in which parents should be expressing love for their children. Tragically, I have met parents who never praise their children. Rather, they constantly find fault and criticize. I know other parents who praise generously, but do it the wrong way or at the wrong time. Some are so worried about building self-esteem that they praise excessively, creating pride and false confidence instead. So let's consider for a moment, some of the right ways and wrong ways to praise a child. 

Be free with your praise without lavishing your child with undeserved flattery. Avoid offering praise for things he had nothing to do with, such as physical attributes, looks, or in-born intelligence. Don't encourage your child to take praise for granted by offering it for every trifle. Be generous with sincere and modest praise when it is warranted. Be particularly attentive to extending it for overcoming a temptation, making a good effort, or for "going the extra mile" in doing what is right. Encourage your child to be of godly character and consistently give him your warm approval when he demonstrates such � that is the best kind of praise. 

His master said to him, 'Well done, good and faithful slave; you were faithful with a few things, I will put you in charge of many things, enter into the joy of your master.
- Matthew 25:21

Praise after Defiance
I never praise a child for obeying me after having initially defied me. For example, if I tell my little boy to go get a spoon for me and he cheerfully obeys, I usually say with a smile, "Thank you!" That simple smile and thank you shows approval and is all the praise a small child wants or needs. Sometimes I will compliment his attitude also, saying, "Thank you! I like your happy smile when I ask you to do something." This is even better praise and will encourage your child to continue to do well and seek to please you.

However, if a request is performed grudgingly and reluctantly, the first thing I do is correct my child�s bad attitude: "Now, go back and do that again�with a smile this time." Then, when he obeys the way he should have initially, I will say matter-of-factly, "Good. That's much better." I might also add, "Now remember to do it that way the first time I ask you." Sometimes I'll smile and say, "Good. It's so much nicer when you obey with a willing smile." In these types of situations I am not praising, just directing, and indicating acceptance of his ultimate obedience. I always make sure my child knows I approve of his belated obedience, but I never hypocritically offer excessive praise after he's just tested or defied me. It is much wiser to instill in him the unmistakable impression that his initial rebellion was a serious offense not to be repeated. Genuine praise should be earned.

And a voice came out of the heavens: "Thou art My beloved Son, in Thee I am well-pleased."
- Mark 1:11

Attitude of Approval
The most important part of a good praise strategy is not the specific words or the timing, but how your overall attitude reflects perpetual loving approval and encouragement. Look carefully into your children�s ways, and express with your countenance, words, and actions, that you are pleased with them for the good that you see. When you assess your children, scrutinize their hearts and motives, not just their outward actions. Be particularly alert to expressions of kindness, generosity, hard work, positive attitudes, and other indications of good character. Be especially quick to praise your child when he makes a difficult choice to do the right thing. Let him know that not only do you approve of him, but so does God.

Praise of the most effective kind may be communicated without the use of words. Simply letting your children know that you are pleased with them is effective praise, the best kind really, and should be done frequently. Overall, your children should always feel they are covered by your love and approval, just as we, the sheep of our Lord's flock, know for a certainty that we are the objects of His unconditional love and acceptance.

Pleasant words are a honeycomb, sweet to the soul and healing to the bones.
- Proverbs 16:24

Parental Anger Related to Child Rearing
Most of us can relate to feeling frustrated and angry with our children from time to time. Parental anger and frustration are usually the result of one of two things: ignorance of effective parenting strategies or wrong parental priorities. A parent who does not know how to handle a situation in which a child is utterly out of control, will certainly be frustrated, and this frustration will often turn to anger. On the other hand, if you know exactly what to do when your child begins to misbehave, and you are willing to do it, you will simply handle the matter and move on, without stress and often with a feeling of satisfaction with a parenting job well done.

Sometimes a parent knows what to do, but they simply are not willing to do it. They expect their children to behave perfectly with little or no effort on their part. Or they expect their children to just stay out of the way while they proceed with their lives as if their children didn't exist. They let their ambitions, housework, or hobbies, become a higher priority than parenting, and they begin to view their children as annoying interruptions. This attitude guarantees failure, frustration, and anger. Only by reordering priorities and recognizing that parenting is a highly demanding, full time job, will there be any hope for decent results and the absence of frustration. Give up everything else if you have to, and undertake the world's most important and fulfilling job to the best of your ability. Expect it to be a demanding job at times, but look forward to the challenge instead of resenting it. Parenting will be far less of a frustration to you, if you learn how to do it well, and if it is not competing with everything else for your time and attention.

And so, as those who have been chosen of God, holy and beloved, put on a heart of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience;
- Colossians 3:12

7 Quick Steps to Toddler Obedience
Okay, now that you�ve pondered some underlying principles, and prepared yourself somewhat for the task of parenting, here�s the stripped down, shortcut method for teaching toddler obedience. If you have a toddler who is old enough to understand you, and who is capable of following your instructions, you can and should teach him to obey. In almost every case, the following general steps are all it takes:

1. Watch your child and notice when he is doing something you disapprove of. Each time this happens, stop what you are doing and call him over to you. Make EYE CONTACT. 
2. Tell him clearly what you expect him to do or not to do. SAY WHAT YOU MEAN. 
3. WATCH to see that your instructions are carried out. 
4. Correct him (with some immediate, negative consequence like a firm �No�, or a small swat on the bottom) upon the FIRST refusal to obey. MEAN WHAT YOU SAY.
5. Direct your child to repeat what you asked him to do, correctly this time. 
6. Repeat all of the above as many times as it takes, until the child obeys with a good attitude - one of cooperativeness and willingness to obey. OUTLAST him. This is mandatory.
7. Keep your child with you and watch him diligently, correcting every future misbehavior of any kind, in similar fashion. Be CONSISTENT.
Now those are the bare bones basics. I'm going to tell you many more things to help you along the way, but if you keep your toddler with you and follow these few short steps each time there is a conflict, you�ll be well on your way to success in no time. Always remember to encourage and enjoy your child whenever he is responding well to you and living as a godly child should.

But above all, my brethren,...let your yes be yes, and your no, no...
- James 5:12

(c) Copyright 2007 L. Elizabeth Krueger.  All rights reserved.
Scripture quotations taken from the NASB.