(Missionary to Thailand Brandon Lingle has written a parenting book in Thai, and he has graciously agreed to share it in English.)
One year we took a family vacation and stayed at a hotel with a go-cart track. Each go-cart had two seats and two steering wheels, so obviously I got behind the wheel that had the gas and break pedals, and my daughter climbed into the passenger seat next to me. She was so excited and seriously wanted to catch her mommy and her brother!
What made the go-carts so fun for her that day was not that we were in a hot pink go-cart that matched her helmet (even though that made things better), but that she thought she was driving the whole time. What parent in their right mind would really let a three-year-old drive a go-cart, assuming they could reach the pedals?
That day on the tracks would not have been as much fun if she was in control, nor would it have been as safe. God has given parents authority over children for their safety and for their good. The sad thing is there are kids who not only think they are in control of their parents, but they actually are.
Our children need us to step in and take control in a loving way. My wife and I once drove past a beautiful house in our hometown with stunning architecture, but we were startled to see their children’s playground right next to a cliff. Why was there not a big, strong, tall fence? Who said putting up boundaries isn’t loving?
Control and boundaries can be very loving. Of course, we will have more boundaries at first, and we should slowly take them away to help prepare them for adult life. Even as adults we are under authority in our nation, in the church, usually in our jobs, and always under God’s authority.
We want our children to obey us, right? But is that just a want or need? The Bible says, “Children, obey your parents in the Lord for this is right” (Ephesians 6:1). Notice this is a command to children. They are called to be obedient “in the Lord”, meaning parents should be rooting their commands and teachings “in the Lord’s” commands.
In other words their obedience to us as parents is like our obedience to God. Because we require from them things that God requires, we command them to do things that would please the Lord, so their obedience is rooted “in the Lord”. That is why teaching, training, and demanding obedience from our children is important and not optional or reserved for the days we feel up to the challenge.
Our children come into this world not only resisting the desire to obey, but they don’t really know what obedience is. So what is it? True obedience is when our hearts willfully submit to the God-given authorities in our lives. The obedience we desire from our kids is the same obedience God desires from us: a willful and joyful obedience. If we ask our children to throw their trash away and they let out a loud sigh, we know there’s still work to do in helping them joyfully submit to the authority God has given us over them.
There are two types of obedience: Doing what we tell them to do (throw your trash away) and their refraining from what we tell them not to do (don’t touch the hot soup). They are to do this without excuses, without delay, and without whining. Easier said than done, right?
Teach Them Obedience
My kids seem to have – What’s a nice way to put it? – “extra energy” when we are at a store or restaurant. It’s like they were just set free from a cage. I’m thinking specifically of my two-year-old. I could excuse the disobedience because of curiosity to explore his new-found territory, but as one author has warned, “Your child’s disobedience comes from his heart, not from a change in surroundings . . . If his behavior is excused because he is away from home, he will quickly learn that he is only required to obey at home.”
We know obedience is important at all times and all places. It makes sense that teaching and training them in obedience is of upmost importance, but why? Because they cannot learn or be trained by us if they don’t first obey us. It’s foundational. Ephesians 6:1 says, “Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right.” We are clearly called to teach them how to obey. Parents are to stand together with one voice. A husband and wife are “one flesh”.
The only way children will obey is if they have the same standards, values, and requirements as their parents. Teaching obedience needs to start early so that it will naturally become a part of a child’s character and they will be obedient to school teachers, coaches, police officers, etc.
Let’s go back exactly one chapter in Ephesians and see an important pattern. Ephesians 5:1 says, “Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children.” So as parents we are to obey and copy our Father in heaven. And then we come to Ephesians 6:1 again: “Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right.” They go together. God commands us, among many other things, to speak truth, be holy, and be patient because we are called to be like him. He is the example we are to copy. And then we are called to be that example for our children.
Ways to Teach Obedience
Maybe you already knew that your children should obey you and you’re thinking, “That’s great, but what are some ways to teach and train my children in obedience?” Here are a few things we as parents can do:
“Teach in Times of Non-Conflict”
We often forget about the importance of obedience until our kids misbehave and remind us of their disobedience. It’s usually in those moments we want to talk obedience with our children, but really the best time is before they choose to disobey and emotions are heated. We should be teaching and encouraging our children to obey, showing them what it looks like, and reminding them it always goes well for them when they obey. God blesses obedience.
“Yes sir!” Game
One way to teach obedience in times of non-conflict is with a game. A friend of mine taught me this, and I like to play it with our kids. It’s simple, fun, and good practice for them. Gather the kids together and give them a command. For example, say, “Touch your head.” They have to touch their head, say, “Yes sir!” and smile while doing it. Next, tell them to pick up a toy or some trash. You should hear a cheerful “Yes sir!” while they do it. Make practicing obedience fun, and also explain to them the importance of doing it when we give them actual commands latter.
This next game can be used when your child has already chosen to disobey you. Just the other day I had the opportunity to play the obedience game with our daughter. I asked her to do something and she threw her hands to her side and sternly said “No”. I hit the pause button and told her, “Let’s rewind that and try again.” I asked her to walk backwards to where she came from to make it fun like she was going back in time. I then said, “Let’s change our response to a way that will be obedient and honoring to daddy.” After obeying me by going back to try again, she happily returned with a better response and obeyed by doing what I originally asked her to do. It’s like she needed a second chance.
Haven’t we all reacted in ways we wish we could take back? Kids are no different; sometimes they just need to leave the room and come back in for a redo.
Let’s say you have noticed your child is having a hard time sitting still. You ask him to sit still when you are in church or somewhere else and he doesn’t listen. Well, let’s give him some time to practice and make it a game. Have children sit down for five minutes and be still. (In front of a TV doesn’t count.) If they can, celebrate with them and maybe even reward them. Tell them you are practicing for church or when you go out to eat. We can give a reward for successfully completing the practice game, but don’t feel like you should reward them every time they sit still out in public. If we do that they will be obeying for the wrong reasons.
How to Give Commands
We should be giving our children commands like a gift. Not throwing them in their faces like a drill sergeant yelling out orders. What do I mean like a gift? The Bible says God blesses obedience (Ephesians 6:1-3). When we are giving them opportunities to obey and training them to that end, it truly is a gift from parent to child.
Side note: When we give a command we should make sure we are face to face with our child for the following reasons: They can practice making eye contact, we know they heard our command, they can confirm hearing it, and we don’t have to yell commands across the house or store. From an early age, we should practice having our children come to us and listen to what we say.
Don’t Let Your Words be Meaningless
Imagine a little boy tossing a toy around in the house. He is having fun but all of a sudden gets rowdy and starts to throw it. His father looks at him and says, “Son, please stop throwing that. You might break something.” The son doesn’t stop and the father does nothing.
What is happening here? The son is disobeying and the father is not parenting. What is the result? The father’s commands and authority start to mean, or already mean, nothing to the child. What the child needs most is a father and mother who mean what they say.
Teach Immediate Obedience
This will take a lot of time and patience, but it is biblical and good for our children. Parents will think immediate obedience is impossible, so they revert to counting for their kids to obey, thinking it will give them another chance to obey or more time to make a better decision. But sadly, parents don’t know what they are doing to their child. When we do this we are teaching them “delayed obedience” and basically telling them they have to obey mommy only when she gets to a certain number, a certain degree of red in the face, or when Dad’s voice reaches a certain decibel level
Another thing parents should make their kids practice is asking “why” only after they have completed what we told them to do. This will help them learn to obey immediately. There’s a story of a father who saw a snake lowering itself down from a branch to his son. The father, trying to stay calm, told his son to duck and crawl towards him. The son was taught to obey and then ask questions later. It saved his life. Thankfully he didn’t ask, “Why, dad?” We can teach them to ask later because the main motivation in obeying their parents is that they trust us and are submissive to us as their authority, not that they only obey when the command makes sense to them.
Maybe you’re thinking, “So you’re saying we should require perfect obedience?” You and I are not perfectly obedient, so how could we think our kids can be. That doesn’t mean we don’t require it like God does from us. Expect obedience knowing it will not be perfect.
Be Considerate and Encouraging
Think of giving your children a good “warning” before you call them to obey a command. For example, if you see they are building something with toys, instead of demanding them to tear the incomplete project down and join the family, maybe we should tell them, “You have five minutes and we need to go.” That is thoughtful and polite towards our children.
Our kids need to be commended and encouraged when they do what they are called to do. Encouragement and celebrating obedience can go a long way with kids. It’s worth celebrating, I don’t mean celebrating with rewards because we don’t want to confuse our kids into thinking their obedience deserves payment. And we must never think we can buy their obedience. Instead we should celebrate with words of praise, not praise that they are good, but God is good and working in their hearts.
Wrong Reason to Desire Obedient Kids
If the reason we desire obedience from our children is so others will think we’re great parents, that is wrong, and that sin is called pride. So often we can be focused on how we and our children are perceived instead of focusing on our hearts and the hearts of our children. Too often we quickly clean up on the outside to present ourselves well to others and ignore what’s going on inside (Matthew 23:25-28).
Not only do we worry about what others think about our parenting and our kids, but we are also quick to judge parents around us. Or we look at the behavior of their kids and automatically classify their parents as being good or bad ones.
I’ve been guilty of it. I hate when I do it. I’m usually better and quicker to find fault in others than I am of myself. When we look into Scripture like a mirror (James 1:23-25), God points out the sins and shortcomings we have as parents. Jesus taught us in his Matthew 7 sermon that we are quick to see the speck in our brother’s eye while we have beams in our own.
Wrong Ways to Get Kids to Obey
Sadly even Christians believe it’s in their power to change their child’s heart. We claim God alone can do it, but we take things into our own hands and try to produce in our kids something that God alone can do. I’m not sure why we do it. Maybe we think our parents weren’t strict enough, so we tighten up on our kids. Or maybe our parents were too strict, so we lean the other way. Here are three of the most common ways parents around the globe try to control and change their kids:
Dads can use their size, deep voice, and other scare tactics to strike fear into their children. It works while kids are small. It works temporarily. You and I would be intimidated by someone three to four times our size!
Moms can even be scary, maybe even scarier, but parents who use fear now should remember that the day is coming when our size doesn’t scare them anymore. The only thing we taught them was to fear us. So they hide what they did and don’t open up to us when they really should.
Instead of using fear to motivate our children to obey us we should treat our children with respect and give them a reason to trust us and feel secure around us.
The most well known and easy trick for getting our children to obey is to buy their obedience. That’s why we say things like, “Son, if you don’t get out of the buggy at the store I will buy you some chocolate when we leave.” Our kids are smart, way smarter than we give them credit for, and they even know how to negotiate. They will start to calculate if their obedience is worth your reward.
Here is another example I’ve heard before. Let’s say I tell my son, “If you don’t hit your sister for one week I will buy you a new football.” He understands and wants to follow through with this deal. A week goes by and he doesn’t lay a hand on his sister, so I go out and buy him a new football. What’s the first thing he does with it? Throws it right at his sister.
What happened? What happened is he loves himself. Those seven days didn’t move his heart towards caring for and loving his sister. The reward system just delayed his heart from showing itself.
I’m not saying we shouldn’t reward our children at all for their obedience. It’s good to reward obedience and not disobedience. Throughout the Bible God blesses obedience (Deuteronomy 28:1-2, 30:9-10, Luke 11:28). But I’m saying we shouldn’t tell them, “If you pick up your toys I will give you a snack.” Let’s just say, “Son, please pick up your toys.” If he obeys, it’s OK to do something special for him every once in a while and make a big deal out of the fact that he chose the right thing! Obedience is good and it’s worth celebrating.
This one is probably used more than we realize. “I can’t believe you would act like that!” “Why would you act like that and embarrass me?” “For all that I have done for you . . .” “Well, I guess none of my kids love me.” The list could go on. Have you ever heard some of these phrases? Ever used some? For some parents this is their secret weapon: guilt.
When parents fire off these kinds of remarks their aim is to make children feel bad for what did so they won’t do it again. Every child wants to be loved, to be appreciated, and to know they have pleased their parents. Guilt is the opposite of those things, and that’s why this tactic is harmful to kids.
The scary part of this form of control is it trains children to distance themselves from their own parents. I remember hearing a preacher say that parents and grandparents who use shame-based discipline are complaining and trying to make others feel bad that they are alone on special holidays and occasions. There may very well be a reason for that.
Instead of tearing down our children we should be building them up like Ephesians 4:29 says, “Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear.”
Wrong Ways to Give Instructions
- “If you would like to be helpful, when you have some free time please pick up your room.” We should be cautious about this type of command because it’s left up to the child to choose when he or she wants to do something, and if they want to be helpful or not. It’s not a clear command and so the child thinks it’s up to him to decide.
- “You need to clean up your room right now!!” This type of command can easily stir your child to anger, and if they do obey they will probably not do it with joy.
- “I told you three days in a row to pick up your room.” This request makes you wonder who is really in charge. The parents should have seen to it that the room was cleaned when asked the first time.
- “Please try to find something to help me out with around the house. Maybe like cleaning up your room, OK?” This pleading parent will most likely pass on the whininess to their children. Also since this wasn’t a direct order, the child could not do it and is technically not disobeying.
- “Mommy is soooo tired of picking up your room by myself. Wouldn’t you like to help me?” Again this is a type of manipulation (guilt). Another thing is if she doesn’t clean the room three bad things can happen: 1) The room gets dirtier. 2) She ignores her mom. 3) Mom’s feelings are hurt because she feels like the child doesn’t care.
- “Clean your room now! If you don’t you cannot go out to play for a week!” The parent is trying to manipulate again. And the child by now probably knows it’s just a threat and won’t really happen. This type of command shows that the parent doesn’t actually think the child will obey because just a “Clean your room now, please” would have been enough.
- “Back when I was your age, my mom had me clean up my room every night before bedtime.” A sad sob story from our past childhood likely will not move our child’s hearts toward obedience.
The correct way is to firmly but pleasantly say, “Please clean your room.” Or if you are talking during dinner, “Please clean your room after we finish eating.” The child answers, “Sure, mom.” The mother here expects to be obeyed. She doesn’t give the child a question, doesn’t give options, and doesn’t try to manipulate.The command was given politely and directly.
Let’s be clear with our children about authority. We can’t be “buddy mom” and then all of a sudden switch into “parenting mom” when the kids are being disobedient. We are always their parents; yes, even when we go out to do something special and fun. Being their authority figures doesn’t mean we can’t play outside in the dirt with them (one of the greatest ways to show love to a child, by the way), but it does mean we are on a different level.
We must not let those levels get blurred. We should be humble and gentle authority figures in their lives, but they should never talk to us or treat us like they would their friends.
It could be argued that if this fundamental heart issue (authority) is not established, the other things you and I seek to see accomplished in the hearts of our children will not happen. Our kids must learn they were born into a world of authority and they are not it. Submission to authority is unnatural to all of us. Sin causes us to want our own way and to set our own rules. It makes us think our ways are right and that we should be able to do whatever we want when we want. This is dangerous.
But there is good news! Jesus came to change that and free us from ourselves. Bible says, “And he died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves…” (2 Corinthians 5:15). Not only did Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross make a way for our sins to be forgiven, but it also freed us from the sin of living for ourselves. God’s authority is so good and so much better than our own we try to make up for ourselves and others. It is so important for us parents to know that there is nothing but the cross of Jesus that can free our kids from their addiction to self rule.
God, in his goodness, has established visible authority figures in this world. Which means every time we exercise authority over our children it should reflect the beauty and goodness of God’s authority. Don’t miss this important truth and grace from God: The role he has given us is to be an extension of his authority to our children. That’s why God commands our children to obey us. We are to demonstrate how good, protective, and patient God’s authority is. We are painting for our children a picture of God’s authority, but what are they seeing? A loving and patient authority? Or a hot-tempered and scary one?
It is so important that we daily point out to our children their struggle with authority, and not only point it out, but give them a safe, caring, and beautiful authority they can come to and live under.
We need to fight authority battles with our kids early on. We don’t want to be fighting that battle with a teenager. Even if a teenager is wiser than his parents he is required to submit to them. Jesus was wiser than his parents, especially as he grew older, and yet he was still “submissive” (Luke 2:51). We are not given authority over our children because we are bigger or smarter than them but rather because God has placed us in authority.
We cannot let our mood on any certain day determine how we lead and exercise authority over our children. Remember we are to be an extension of God’s authority. We should strive to be like him. Never do we see in the Bible God having “a bad day” and getting short tempered when his commands are disobeyed. Never do we see in the Bible God getting tired of enforcing his rules. May God help us to be more consistent and more like him with the authority he has given us over our children.
When it comes to authority we are a lot more like our children than unlike them. Sometimes we can still struggle with people giving us orders even when they have been placed as an authority over us. That sin can still linger in our hearts as well.
Law Requires Obedience
Have you noticed after we tell our kids to do something they ask, “why?” We need to root their answer in something deeper than “Well, because daddy said so.” They need to know the basis of our commands, which should be because it is what would please God, not just please us.
God’s law is supreme and the only law that is perfect and right. Mom and Dad, don’t miss this. You and I have our own rules, but they are not on the same level as God’s rules. His rules are perfect and just, ours sometimes are created because we are lazy and don’t want to have to sweep the floor again for the third time today, so we say something like, “Stop throwing your food!” Is throwing food at the dinner guest a bad thing? Yes, we know that isn’t polite, but when we tell them to not throw the food, what standard or foundation is that rule based on or should be based on?
It should be grounded in God’s commandment to “love our neighbors” (Mark 12:31). It’s not loving to throw chunks of food at them. Have you noticed it’s a lot easier to give a command that is from someone else. For example, if you’re the messenger and say, “Go wash your hands, dad said so.” What does that do? The authority has been placed on dad. In the same way when we are teaching our children God’s commandments we put the weight of authority where it rightly belongs and can be carried: on God and his Word.
Make an Appeal
Our children should have room to make an appeal (after obedience and authority are in place). There should be opportunities for our children to politely and respectfully ask us to reconsider a new rule or command we just gave. For example, if our child is reaching in the refrigerator for a snack and we say, “No snacks until after we eat dinner,” but we didn’t know that our kid asked permission from mom first like they have been taught. It would be good and proper for the child to say, “I asked mom and she said I could, is that OK, daddy?” Then at that moment we have the chance to take it back and thank them for telling us.
We are only human. We can’t know everything and make perfect judgments. If we want to keep from “provoking our children to anger” (Ephesians 6:4) then it would be wise to give them room to make an appeal when needed.
We must not forget: Commands go down and appeals go up. Don’t ever let a child command you to do something. For example: Kid comes home from school and commands mom to “Get me a snack.” We should stop them right there and explain to them they are acting like they are in charge. They have the roles switched and think they have the authority. Tell them instead to say, “Can you please give me a snack?”
Hug them and thank them for such sweet kindness, and tell them you love to give them good things, but remind them they are not to command you for things. Their hearts will slowly see the beauty of authority and the structure God has made. How wonderful it would be to have a teenager thankful for authority. A teenager who wouldn’t tell you no or command you to do things. It’s possible. The early years of forming and shaping the heart are so critical.
Obedience and authority are good. Requiring our kids to obey us is hard work but worth it for us and for them. Just because we are their authority figures doesn’t mean we can’t enjoy them and have fun!
But the question is: If I can’t get them to obey or I can’t get to their heart I still have to control their bad behavior, right? What do I do next? That is a great question. Yes, we have to control their bad behavior (we are their authorities), and yes, we have to lovingly demand obedience. But how do we do that? The answer is discipline.
Copyright © 2020 by Brandon Lingle @ https://lookaside.fbsbx.com/file/Intro%20-%20Chapter%201.pdf?token=AWweAHzYHnnqtG2JEAISzHe3UhxcHs-NuTUU4ezmjnOlaskyUYxtwmTJTQmnzd9PB1B4dxu1AkBlaA6niTImhDiBNoDcyjBKL4wqWplEPWnPC0zaKv89YZoCVxEdNYkXFzsn_13oGGWZPyJGqX_W7Z8W3LAZk32Rd8AxCCrO0vHuCg . Used with permission. No part of this article may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from Lifeword.org.