Have you ever had your kids just look at you with a blank face while you ask (tell) them to do something?  You want their obedience but you are not even sure they’ve processed what you’ve said!  When dealing with one such situation I started to think how important communication is in the area of obedience.

So one of the things I started to say, when faced with a wooden expression was that obedience requires communication – and for a while there it became our catch phrase.  If they would just look at me, or even turn away and go and do what I asked – I would remind them: “Obedience requires communication” – prompting them to respond verbally to me.  I wanted to know that my children heard my instructions, that they were moving in that direction or that they had actually finished what I asked of them.

I need them to talk to me!

This looks different for different ages, and though a principle in the younger years, it becomes a teaching took in those pre-teen and beyond years.

Just to recap obedience:

Obedience is following the instructions of those who are in authority.

We start teaching our children obedience by telling them not touch, or to stop as they run away.  They learn to come when you call their name, and then they learn to look you in the eyes and listen to what you have to say.  Little by little, we teach our kids to listen to instructions and then go and do them.  We had a four point response prompt:

Do it:

  • Straight away
  • With a happy heart
  • Do it all
  • Report back

As our children grew older we also added – go the extra mile.

Discussion Guide

Download a copy of my discussion guide for parents and teens to talk over this issue of obedience.

Communication in Giving an Instruction

Obedience starts with a given instruction.  So as parents we set the stage for our children to be obedient.  We need to make sure that the children hear us and understand the instructions (as well as making sure they are capable of following the instructions – but that is another issue.)

As a parent – who wants to communicate well to my children I have a few guidelines to follow when I give instructions to my kids:

  • Have their attention (call their name, make eye contact)
  • Give clear instructions
  • Follow up and be ready to praise

Another aspect that parents need to be aware of is frustrating our child with our instructions.  Now, every child is going to be frustrated if we are telling them to do something that they don’t want to do – I’m not talking about that.  That is a matter of the heart and willingness to obey.  But rather there are times – especially after 5 years old, and even more so as they grow older, that parents need to respect what the kids are doing, and how we interrupt them and expect them to move to follow our instructions.

Two practices that have helped us show our kids respect:

1–Five Minute Warning* – When my kids are doing something and my instructions are going to interrupt them, I like to give them a 5 minute warning.  Now, this doesn’t always happen but it is one way of respecting my kids.  I might warn them that it will be time to pack up soon, or leave, or start school.

2–Let my children explain themselves – If my child can acknowledge my instruction and confirm their willingness to obey they can also ask to explain something to me.  More often than not, we listen to what they have to say and it is likely to adjust our instructions to some degree.  It is important to note – they are not arguing, or giving excuses but rather helping us to understand their situation.

Parents need to communicate: speak and listen, with respect.

 

Communication in Receiving an Instruction

When my kids were young I expected them to answer me with a “Yes, Mum” or “Coming Mum” – this was a verbal communication.  They were telling me that they heard and that they were willing.

As my kids grew into teenagers I still expected them to respect me and my requests with a response.  They may not give the same ‘robotic’  “yes, Mum” that my preschooler gives, but they did need to communicate where they were at in regards to the request or instruction.  Their responses were more like – Sure, Okay, No Worries – but always with respect.

Ultimately it is an issue of respect and courtesy to acknowledge that someone has spoken to you, or asked you to do something. I hope that I show my kids that respect – even though we aren’t talking about obedience in that sense.

 

Communication in disagreeing with an Instruction

Of course there is often plenty of negative communication – otherwise known as excuses and whining!! These attitudes come from a heart full of selfishness as opposed to a heart that is submitting to being a part of a family.

When my children offer this type of communication I simply ask them to sit it out and think about what is going on in their heart. Sometimes they come up with selfishness, but other times they may be angry, they may feel things are unfair, or they were distracted and had their heart set on something else.

They need a little heart tweak. Sometimes this is simply time to think about it and rearrange their priorities, other times we need to talk, and other times they may need some extra time and consequences to help them see the need for obedience.

 

Obedience with Communication Touches the Heart

If we don’t find this balance between communication and obedience we are simply training our kids behaviour – much like dog obedience training.  True obedience, a choice to follow the instructions of those in authority – is a choice our children have to make – and they are able to make it if we surround them with the clear communication.

This balance between communication and obedience is particularly important if we are going to grow in our relationship with our older children – once they get close to teen years.

When we look at our own life can we see people who we ‘obey’. Of course there is civil law which we obey without much communication at all – for example we simply obey road rules, tax rules and the like. But there are other spheres in our life where we obey a person we have a relationship with.

For example, we may be a part of a team organising an event. Think about how you relate and respond in a meeting when the chairperson asks you to do a specific task. You would make sure you understood, you try and keep a good attitude even if you’ve pulled the short straw for the task no-one else wanted, you get-to and do the task in the time frame given, if you see something else that can be done you may take the initiative and do it or you present it to the team as an option, and when all is done you report back to either the chairperson or the committee. This is obedience in action in an adult’s life and it requires communication.

When we break down obedience in our own life, and we see the level of communication that it requires, it is then easier to teach our children from this perspective. Obedience is a trait that we all benefit from in our life – it is not a thing of childhood.

We know and appreciate the value of communication when working with other people in our life – we need to have this level of respect, responsibility and communication when we are working with our kids.

Obedience looks a bit different with our teens.
Download this quick review of what obedience looks like in the teen years.

Discussion Guide

Download a copy of my discussion guide for parents and teens to talk over this issue of obedience.

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