I learned many years ago that parents should teach their children to obey the first time. When mom says, “Son, please close the door” he should close the door without question or back talk. Though it is hard to do and as parents we fail at it often, it is the right goal. Young children should learn to obey the voice of their parents without question. Teaching our children to do this is kindness. But it comes with its own set of dangers.
When I first tried to train my children this way my assumption was that the child was the problem. They need to obey immediately because they are sinners and need to be brought into submission to the parent. Foolishness is bound up in the heart of a child. But this left out an important part the equation: my sin. Too often when teaching on parenting the teacher will assume that the only sin the parent can commit is failing to discipline and train their child. That is a sin, no doubt. But it is not the only sin. And if we assume that it is we will run into serious trouble.
We should teach our young children to hear our voice and to obey us quickly and cheerfully. This requires prayer, time, energy, exhortations, and yes, spankings. But just because we are doing the right thing does not make us immune to pitfalls. Here are a few reminders when you are teaching your children to obey.
All discipline should take place in the context of love. The child must know that you love them and have their best interest in mind, that you are “for them.” You are their cheerleader and greatest fan. This does not make you a peer anymore than a coach who encourages his players is a peer. I am not saying that you should be their buddy or go easy on them. But you should be their biggest support. That makes discipline easier and more effective. Discipline often fails because the atmosphere is toxic. We all know this from our work environment. An employee does not receive correction easily from a boss who is crotchety, angry, bitter, and selfish. Why would a child receive correction from a self-absorbed parent who disciplines because they are annoyed, angry, or embarrassed? Parents are sinners and we discipline poorly at times. The goal though is that your home is a place of joy, gladness, love, and kindness. When that is the context, a child will often (not always) receive correction easier. Your discipline should be an extension of your love for the child.
Our goal as parents should not be control. If you teach you child to obey the first time because you want to control them then you are setting about it all wrong. The goal is that the child cheerfully obey you because they want to not because they have to. I have nine children. I realize that does not always happen. Sometimes a parent must say, “Don’t cross the line or you will get the rod.” But the goal is the child’s heart. The goal is that the child loves to obey. Here I will take a line from Pastor Doug Wilson. If your child regularly has to be forced to obey then you may want to lower the standards until the child wants to obey. Control cannot be the goal. Remember one day you will not have control any more. When you cannot spank the child will they listen to you? If the answer is no then you might have control, but not the child’s’ heart.
Our children are not trophies that we use to “set an example” for all the bad parents out there. Too many Christian parents discipline for sake of the world instead for the child’s sake. They don’t want to be embarrassed in public or at church so they train their child to listen. But this is selfishness, not love. We are disciplining not for the child’s sake, but for our ego. A child will learn quickly when a parent is disciplining them because other people are watching. A child will learn that mom or dad are training them not out of love, but out of fear of man. Of course, teaching your child to obey will spare you embarrassment and can be a good example for the world. But that is not the aim.
Finally, many parents are like the speed talker at the end of a radio commercial giving us all the legal details. A millions commands at a million miles a minute. Don’t barrage your children with commands. Be clear in what you expect of them. Don’t give a hundred commands. If your at dinner and fifty things need working on, pick one and work on that one thing. Let the other forty-nine go. A child who is constantly peppered with “do this” or “don’t do that” will find it hard to obey even when they want to. It will create discouragement and is one of ways fathers provoke their children (Colossians 3:21).
Our children should learn to obey when we speak to them. Their own souls need to learn discipline and submission to the authorities in their lives. This begins with honoring their father and mother. Contrary to many modern approaches to a parenting this is kindness to the child, not cruelty. As parents we fight this battle all our child-raising years. Some days are better than others. But the danger is not just inconsistency. We can also be doing the right thing in the wrong way or for the wrong reasons. Train your child to obey you. But watch your own heart, soul, and attitude while doing it. Don’t assume the only sinner in the room is the kid.