It’s important to most mothers that their children obey. Not because kids are robots, but because it’s important children learn to trust their parents’ guidance. Here is why we shouldn’t trick our kids into obeying.
I remember when I only had one child. She was fairly easy going and compliant (even as a baby) so everything seemed to work perfectly. I felt like Super Mom and life was good. Then I had another baby and, for quite a few months things remained the same.
After all, a baby doesn’t add attitude into the mix.
It felt like, only having one child’s attitude and obedience to work with, that things were always fine. I could ask her to do something and, if it took longer than was expected or she put up a fuss, find another strategy to get her to obey.
Then my second baby grew up and I had a third and I realized… obedience is not obedience if you’re having to trick your children into giving it.
These are all tools used to try and gain compliance. And sometimes, another tactic used is a complete lack of boundaries or rules, but going with your child’s flow. This, again, is a trick that ends up backfiring.
“Because of the absence of arguments, the parents feel like the children are obeying – after all, they’ve found no need for discipline. But children can’t obey if no rules are laid down.” (Sheila Gregoire, Raising Kids You Actually Like pg. 13)
So we can all agree to raise “obedient children” is not the parenting goal. Not even close. It is, however, something worth striving for and something we work on in our homes. Why? Because we want our children to learn self-control and trust. And because they don’t know what’s good for themselves and we do.
I’ve recently read an awesome book called How to Raise Kids You Actually Like and this post was inspired by that.
Here’s why we shouldn’t trick our kids into obeying
By the word “trick” I mean jumping through hoops to get our children to do what we want or jumping through hoops to get our kids to listen.
We deprive them the opportunity to learn obedience
So, when we trick our kids into doing what we want, we aren’t actually teaching them to obey. Imagine I told my daughter, “Clean your room, honey, and then you can go out and play.” She whines, flails, stalls, and tries to get out of it. If I go in and start negotiating, bribing, or even “helping” her (by doing it all and pretending she’s helping) then I am not teaching her to do what I ask. I’m teaching her that I’ll do what I ask if she holds out long enough.
If we are reasonable mothers with reasonable requests, we don’t need to convince, cajole, or bribe our kids into doing what we’ve asked. We need to be clear, kind, then have appropriate consequences if they don’t follow through.
We don’t avoid, but delay, power struggles
By jumping through hoops and doing crazy dances to get our kids to obey, we are not preventing power struggles. We’re simply delaying them until later. This has been called credit card parenting. You’ll still have to pay, but it’ll just be compounded with interest.
“If we let our little ones rule, you’ll have to crack down hard in their teen years. Just when you should be loosening the strings to let them out of the nest, you’re tightening them because you’re scared of what they’ll do.” (pg. 13)
Issue a directive, expect obedience, praise if they comply, and give a consequence if they don’t. No need for theatrics. If they learn this when they’re young they will have learned to obey you. If we don’t, it will get immensely harder to parent a child who is not used to being required to do things they don’t like.
We prevent them from learning self-control and self-discipline
One of the biggest indicators of adult success is the presence of self-control. The same self-control that your child harnesses to remain in their seat at dinner is what helps them sit still in school. The same self-control that allows them to stay in their rooms in the morning also helps them follow through with chores you assign. We are inter-related and by having our children responsible for their own obedience we’re helping their tender hearts develop self-control.
Because it’s not actually easier for us or them
“You either put in the work disciplining toddlers, when it’s easier, or you’ll have to put in the work disciplining teens, when it’s harder (with more serious consequences for bad choices.)”
That quote is standalone. When we jump through hoops, bribe, cajole, or distract our kids in an effort to get them to obey it’s not actually easier for us. It isn’t easier or less confusing for them either. What is clear is having set expectations of obedience in our home and being consistent in follow through. Having to count to 3 (via 2 and 3/4) or bribe or yell or threaten makes the atmosphere in our homes negative, but does not teach our children obedience.
Because to learn to trust us, they need to understand we’re the parents
It’s important for children to have parents they can trust. Children need to feel safe, secure and loved at home. One way parents can help children learn to trust them is by having their best interests at heart and by being the parent. We don’t make requests of our children for no reason.
Not walking into the road, hitting a sibling, or touching the oven are requests made for the safety and well-being of our families. As children grow up and learn that we are fully capable and willing to meet their needs they’ll begin to trust us. By acting like the friend instead of the parent, we are giving them power to make decisions they are not mature enough to make. This does not empower them, it leads to insecurity.
Essentially, kids need firm boundaries and kind loving parents.
The balance is essential.
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