Obedience is one of those things that we want for our kids but I think we often settle for less. Obedience is recognising that there is someone who is in charge, someone who is the boss. For children this is their parents. Why work towards obedience?
- The Bible says: children obey your parents, for this is good…
- There is safety in obedience (parents are older and wiser than a toddler and therefore see the consequences of actions far better)
- It is life – there are rules, and authorities in our life, even as adults, that we need to obey, so it is training for life
But obedience pulls against our very nature – we want to be the boss and we see that very clearly in the life of a toddler. Here are some keys to consider when teaching toddler to obey.
- Get their attention before giving an instruction. Stop training as mentioned yesterday is helpful for this, or call their name. Ultimately you want them to stop doing what they are doing and look at you.
- Get close. Eye to eye contact is good, but touch is even better. So once you have their attention get them to come to you. At the beginning of teaching/training this will mean you say their name, they look at you, you say ‘come’ and they stand still. At this point you get up and go to them, gently take their hand, and say “when mummy says come you need to come” and walk back to the spot where you were when you gave the call. Once there, you can go on and tell them what you want from them. A fidgety, active child will find it helpul for you to hold their hands while you give instructions (don’t forget to keep that eye contact going as well).
- Expect a response. My ultimate goal is to have my child say, “yes, mum” and go and do whatever it is that I’ve asked of them. Of course it is very unlikely you’ll get this response from a toddler so you need to train. At this stage we say, the “yes, mum” for them as we help them do whatever it is. At this stage we are modelling the verbal response while helping them carry out the physical instruction.
- Don’t say it unless you mean it. Once an instruction has been given make sure it happens. If you are not prepared to get up and make sure it happens, don’t give the instruction. For toddlers this means getting up, going to where they are, and walking them through the responses and actions you want from them.
The number one thing that makes obedience hard for a little person is understanding who is boss. For most of the day they think they are the boss and then suddenly the parent acts like they are the boss and there is a bit of a power struggle. Most (though not all) these power struggles can be reduced simply by parent being the boss all day.
We need to be the one who makes the choices for our little ones – even on those choices that don’t matter to us. If they chose what to wear – they are the boss (in their minds), if they chose what to eat (they are the boss), if they chose what and where to play (they are the boss), and we are all okay with these little decisions, because they aren’t really any biggie. But to the little person they are. Each choice, each decision they make consolidates in their head that they are the boss. So why would they willingly obey you, when you want them to sit in the shopping trolley, or go to bed, or stay in a safe spot ….. These are the big decisions that do matter to us so we stand our ground, but we have confirmed their ability to rule their life throughout the day. If you are having power struggles then consider how many choices your toddler is making in their day. Start taking those choices back.*
Of course we don’t want to continue to make these little choices for our child forever…over the years to come we will give these decision making opportunities back to our kids, but we have to keep in balance, can they make the choice and still respect our authority (our choices, our decisions). If they can flow with their parents, they can make choices. But for the toddler years, this often creates power struggles. We need to remember that no one aspect of training is in isolation from others – while they aren’t making these choices today, we are teaching them other life skills at the same time, preparing them to make wise choices in the future.
*I would like to give credit to this idea about choices to Gary Ezzo, from his session “Red Cup, Blue Cup”
You can see the rest of my Living with a Toddler for 31 days series here.
Or find more 31 day series here.