Session 9: Principles of Obedience
We attended Growing Kids God’s Way in church today. The session discussed at great lengths about how first-time obedience can help us to teach our children the high standards of God.
In this week’s lesson, we learned the importance of training the hearts of our children to the standard. Contrary to cultural discipline (which involves spanking or scolding), biblical discipline is all about getting to the heart of a child, by bringing the child to know God and His Word. It is not merely a set of moral standards.
*Note that very young children demonstrate honour by obedience. As a child matures, his obedience out of duty evolves to a devotion out of submission. Obedience and submission represent 2 different developmental concepts in parenting. Obedience is a mandated obligation. Submission is a conformity out of respect.
Characteristics of Biblical Obedience
- It is to be immediate.
- It is to be complete.
- Without challenge.
- Without complaining or murmuring.
Today’s lesson assures us that the above task is not as difficult as it may seem. In fact, true obedience is often more difficult for the parent than for the child. The child often responds and rises to whatever level expected and encouraged by the parents. Thus, parents must train, encourage, correct, and teach at the level of God’s standard.
*Refer to 1 Samuel 15:22-23 for the nature of God’s standard. God requires obedience from His children above all else.
Undermining the Process of Training to Obedience
There are 3 common ways that parents undermine the process of training their children to obedience. Desiring obedience, they teach disobedience instead.
- Threatening and Repeating
The mother who first coaxes, then threatens, then bargains, then pretends to punish, and finally punishes a little is only making a bad situation worse. If what you said the 1st time didn’t register, why would you believe it will the 2nd time? If a child obeys only by the 3rd request, why not by the first?
Understanding the objective nature of 1st-time obedience is of great importance. No child will respond to God’s standard if parental resolve for true obedience is lacking. When parents require the standard, the child himself determines when he will be corrected for failure to comply by his disobedience (it all depends on his own response!). The consistency of God’s standard makes obedience objective, since the parent does not react arbitrarily. However, should the child continue to disobey despite the parents’ threatening and repeating, punishment becomes subjective, because the child is punished not because of disobeying (as in 1st-time obedience), but often because patience of the parents has ran out due to repeated threatening and repeating.
*The threatening and repeating parent fosters a fearful subjective response, whereas 1st-time obedience is objective in nature. Inconsistency in parental resolve brings contempt for the standard of obedience. This keeps the child in a state of continual conflict, confusion and insecurity. It also tempts the child to continue doing the things that he is not supposed to do, in order to test the response of his parents.
In hopes of gaining obedience, bribing parents barter with their children, using bribes, threats, or even scare tactics to gain temporary control of their children’s behaviour. Bribes establish a false and improper motivation for obedience, thus devaluing obedience. Children should be rewarded for their obedience, but should not be obedient just to gain a reward. That distinction is critical! because once the reward loses its appeal, we are left with a child who is neither moral on the inside nor on the outside.
Children of bribing parents develop self-oriented tendencies and learn to manipulate others to benefit themselves. As they seek to be rewarded, they limit their ability to serve others unless they receive gratification. These traits are definitely not characteristics that God would have us develop in our children!
*The following are bible verses that tell us bribing is offensive to God:
“Do not accept a bribe, for a bribe blinds those who see and twists the words of the innocent.” (Exodus 23:8)
“ For the Lord your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great God, mighty and awesome, who shows no partiality and accepts no bribes.” (Deuteronomy 10:17)
“Do not pervert justice or show partiality. Do not accept a bribe, for a bribe blinds the eyes of the wise and twists the words of the innocent.” (Deuteronomy 16:19)
3. Negotiating in Conflict
Negotiating parents are characterised by always negotiating something less than their original instructions. When parents continue to accept a negotiated compromise, they undermine their attempts to bring their child to 1st-time obedience, and any progress toward biblical obedience. If all is negotiable, then no instruction is absolute.
Delayed obedience is disobedience.
*The steadfast insistence on obedience is not for our own victory over a strong-willed child, but rather, to strengthen the child’s will to enable him/her to will against himself/herself, i.e. to do the things that he/she ought to do before doing the things he/she wanted to do.
Principles of Instruction
Following these basic guidelines can prevent stress and increase wilful compliance; failure to comply can lead to power struggles and continuous, outright rebellion.
- Expect an immediate and complete response when you speak to your child in a way that requires an answer or action. Too many parents expect little and receive exactly that. Children will rise to whatever level expected and encouraged.
- When giving instructions, be sure to say exactly what you mean and mean precisely what you say. This simple principle is so easily violated by parents. If you want your child to go to bed, do not state your instructions as a question in the form of a choice. Instead, you should state your instruction as a command to be obeyed.
Parental instructions are either directive or restrictive. The following 3 ways help to maximise the success of parent’s communication:
A) Providing a 5-minute warning
Parental instruction that interrupts or terminates an activity should be preceded by a warning. We have all experienced how engrossed we could get in completing various projects, and to feel frustrated if we are forced to leave our efforts without warning. The same frustration is felt by children too.
Providing a 5-min warning helps the child to emotionally prepare to comply with the instruction that follows the warning. Such parental sensitivity reduces the shock of intrusion and alleviates the tension between the child’s desire to continue with his activity and the need to comply with his mother’s instruction.
B) Providing a Door of Escape
“No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; He will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, He will also provide a way out so that you can endure it.” (1 Corinthians 10:13)
This same principle can be applied to our parenting. Teach our children to look for the door of escape when challenged by sin.
C) Remembering Context
Understanding context prevents 1st-time obedience from becoming legalistic. It is important to look into the context of the moment to determine how to make a moral judgment on a child’s behaviour. Unless parents give due consideration to the context, they may judge right actions wrongly and may not judge wrong actions at all.
3. Judicial parenting does not allow parents to reward sin by doing nothing about it. For small faults, wisdom may dictate parents show patience or give a stern warning, but parents should not consider direct and wilful defiance trivial. Encouraging and establishing right, moral behaviour in children requires consistency and clarity of instruction.
A) Eye Contact and Verbal Responses
Require eye contact when giving face-to-face instruction. Make it a standard practice to get your child to look you in the eyes when you are speaking. Eye contact is a focusing skill and helps the child to process instruction. Processing instruction is half the battle won in getting a child to carry out the instruction.
Of equal importance is verbal response, which facilitates healthy, moral development by assisting the focusing and concentrating process. Work towards a pattern of consistency in 1st-time response without the need for repetition. A child can be trained to tune in to his parent’s voice.
*Just as you expect your children to answer “Yes, Mom” or “Yes, Dad” when you call them, demonstrate a good example by answering “Yes, (name of child)” when they call you.
B) The Goal of Self-Generated Initiative
Initiative is the only legitimate and ethical way to get ahead. Children operate on 1 of 4 levels of initiative:
i) Self-Generated Initiative
The highest and most desirable level of initiative. At this level, a child responds to needs without prompting or instruction. When this happens, parents should give plenty of verbal and physical affirmation, and even add a reward to reinforce the behaviour.
E.g. Little E removes her shoes and socks, and places them back on the shoe rack upon returning home, without prompting.
ii) Prompted Initiative
At this level, a child responds promptly upon receiving instruction. This initiative is characterised by right action and attitude. The attitude with which your child accepts instructions is a benchmark determining the extent to which he respects your authority and headship.
*A child does not need to bubble over with enthusiasm when asked to take out the trash, but neither should his attitude be one of anger, whining or pouting.
iii) Forced Initiative
At this level, the child displays the right action but wrong attitude. The job gets done, but it is done unwillingly, under protest. Unfortunately, many parents reward their children for getting the job done, but do not consider the child’s attitude. If a parent rewards behaviour only, the child will most likely stay at this level.
iv) Suppressed Initiative
This level is characterised by wrong action and wrong attitude. Unfortunately, many parents often encourage this behaviour by getting the job done themselves. In doing so, parents think doing the job themselves is much easier and faster than getting their child to do it. It also avoids conflict. However, such actions reinforces the child’s disobedience and teaches the child that if he waits long enough, someone else will do it for him.
*In Singapore’s context, it is too easy to teach children this form of disobedience with the convenience of having domestic helpers taking care of the children while the parents are at work. Furthermore, the children receives little parental instructions and guidance, and are often doted by the parents too much due to the lack of time spent together. Domestic helpers get most or all jobs done eventually.
Prompted initiative is very good; self-generated initiative is better and should be the goal to which every parent strives. Verbal and physical affirmation (such as a hug or word of encouragement) go a long way when a child knows his actions please his parents. When your child senses how pleased you are, he is more prone to accept additional responsibility freely. This in turn motivates him toward self-generated initiative.
A child’s feeling of acceptance and sense of approval is directly related to the standard of behaviour required by his parents. The child whose parents require 1st-time obedience and encourage him in the process has a greater sense of parental approval, love and acceptance than a child in a permissive or authoritarian household. Permissive parents tend to neglect the standard for obedience, while authoritarian parents ignore the need to affirm their children.
When a child meets a high, established standard and receives parental approval, obedience becomes attractive. The higher the standard, the greater the confirmation and sense of approval. The lower the standard, the weaker the sense of approval, and ultimately, the weaker the parent-child relationship.
Little E and Asher were both seated in the same classroom as us during the study and discussion. They were snacking on raisins and healthy whole grain puffs, and scribbling on the whiteboard while we learned and shared about today’s lesson.
We have learnt much today. May God give us the strength and wisdom to parent our children as He guides us in His way. And may we raise our children in God’s way, that they will grow up to become godly and responsible men and women, after God’s own heart.