It seems that requiring obedience from one’s children is very much out of vogue these days. In fact, there are some parents who make no effort at all to make their children obey. Some even believe that they do not have the moral authority to do so. They love their children dearly but are loath to impose restraints on them.
It’s great to teach your children to do what is right with persuasion, gentleness, kindness, and respect. The Catechism of the Catholic Church instructs us in our responsibility to educate our children “first by creating a home where tenderness, forgiveness, respect, fidelity, and disinterested service are the rule.” But there will inevitably come a time when children will defy the parents and no amount of persuasion will change the child’s mind. Many parents throw up their hands and give in at this point. They will blame the behavior on the child and claim that there is nothing they can do about it.
In reality, there is a lot a parent can do about it. You can tell the child that he must do as you say or there will be consequences. You can give them to the count of three. Once you say three, the consequences must be enforced, be it loss of privileges or a time out, or whatever. For a teen it could be grounding, loss of driving privileges, and the like. Mind you, this must be done with respect for the child’s age, maturity, and ability. Severe discipline is not appropriate and that’s not what I’m talking about. I’m referring to the setting and enforcing of reasonable behavioral limits.
I have seen the parents who seem to think it is wrong to enforce their will on the child. They tell a child that it’s time to go, but the tone of voice conveys very clearly that it’s optional. The child then ignores the parent. The parent gently repeats what is evidently a request several different times while everyone waits. Eventually, the child decides to go and complies. In the meantime the child is taught a dangerous lesson: You don’t need to do what your parents say. It’s OK to ignore your parents.
Why is this a dangerous lesson? Children are not able to live independently because they are not old enough to make the decisions that independence requires. They are not safe unless under the supervision of responsible adults, usually the parents. If, in spite of their dependence, they are not taught to listen to and obey those in authority over them they are going to get into trouble. They may be disruptive in school. They may drive their family crazy by causing repeated conflicts. They may choose to do things that endanger themselves or others. They can become little tyrants. Eventually, if they never learn self-control from somewhere or someone, they can end up in trouble with the law.
Disobedient children are not to blame for their lack of self-control. It is parents who must teach the child to comply with boundaries by being willing to set limits and apply consequences for crossing those limits. Is it possible to completely control a child? No. But parents have a great deal of influence and it is a parent’s job to use that influence to keep their children’s behavior within the boundaries of what is safe and appropriate.
Calmly tell your child the reasons for the boundary you are setting. For example, if he is throwing blocks explain to him that someone could get hurt or something could be broken. Explain it in detail, with examples and in language the child can understand. Give him a chance to comply. If he does, tell him what a good choice he has made. If he does not, he could be given a warning (as long as no one is getting hurt). “If you throw the block again, I’m going to have to give you a time-out.” If, in the future, the child respects that boundary without your saying anything, be sure to compliment him or her. “Johnny, what a great job you are doing playing appropriately with the blocks. You really know the right way to use them.”
If a young child starts to run into the street you might say (after quickly grabbing him), “Michael, you can’t run into the street. There are cars in the street and you could get badly hurt. I love you so much; I can’t let you do things that might hurt you.” If a loving explanation is followed by defiance, a warning could again be given. “Michael, I’ve told you you may not do that. If you do it again, you are going to have a time out.”
Watch your tone of voice. Set boundaries with a reasonable and gentle but firm tone of voice. Yelling is not necessary or helpful. Sometimes just using a tone that conveys the expectation of compliance is all that is necessary. It’s a lot easier to simply communicate in words to your child that you do indeed mean it than it is to apply discipline for an infraction.
For teenagers, explanations are necessary but often not sufficient because of a teen’s natural tendency to argue and challenge. Nevertheless, teens still deserve the explanation and a chance to prove they will comply. It’s important to listen to their point of view and consider it. If they have a point, tell them so.
Many compliant children and even teens never need consequences because of their natural tendency to simply do what they are told. But if a teen repeatedly violates a rule, there must be consequences such as loss of the use of a car or even grounding. Sometimes it helps to give them a choice. “As a consequence you can either work one hour cleaning the basement or be grounded for Saturday night. Which do you want?” Teens, like toddlers, like to have a choice.
For millennia, requiring obedience has been considered a parent’s responsibility. It’s biblical. From Proverbs 22:6, “Train a boy in the way he should go; even when he is old, he will not swerve from it.” And again in Ephesians 6:1, “Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for that is what is expected of you.”
The Catechism cites Jesus’ obedience to Mary and Joseph. “Jesus’ obedience to his mother and legal father fulfills the fourth commandment perfectly and was the temporal image of his filial obedience to his Father in heaven.” (CCC 532)
“By his obedience to Mary and Joseph, as well as by his humble work during the long years in Nazareth, Jesus gives us the example of holiness in the daily life of family and work.” (CCC 564)
It is in a child’s best interests to learn to follow rules. Obedient children are given the benefit of the doubt. They are liked by teachers and others in authority. They have doors opened for them. Life is safer and easier for them. To love your children is to teach them to obey, and to do so kindly, gently and with respect for their individual maturity. The world may not affirm your efforts, but the fruit will be readily evident in your children in the present and for years to come.
What do you think? How do you face the challenges of fostering an obedient spirit in your children?
Copyright 2018 Rosemary Bogdan