“The common but very bad habits of repeating commands and raising the voice not only exhaust the parent’s patience so that he then punishes in anger, but they also teach the child that he need not pay attention until he has heard the command many times, and heard it shouted. Examples are all around us of children who pay practically no attention at all.”
A few weeks ago the kids and I showed up to a park with a few sand toys in tow. It wasn’t long (maybe 45 seconds) before someone else’s two-year old grabbed one of our shovels and buckets and started playing. This has happened before, and usually the kids and I are more than happy to share and play for a while with our new friend.
After a few minutes of this little boy playing with more of our toys than Selah and Evan had access to, his mother wandered over and asked him to give back one of the shovels. Oh no, here we go…she’s an ‘asker,’ I thought.
After honestly five minutes of listening to the mother say over and over…
“Will you please give them back that shovel?”
“You need to give back that shovel or else we are going to leave the park.”
“Do you want to leave the park?”
“Okay, you are not going to get a treat if you don’t give back the shovel.”
“You need to give back the shovel now.”
“ONE. TWO. THREE…”
…with literally no response from her son….
I lost it.
I walked over to the kid, got down in his little face, and said quite sternly, “You need to obey your mommy the FIRST time. Since you didn’t do that, I’m taking back our toys.”
There. Done. End of stinking discussion.
Back to his mom:
“Let’s go, honey. These people are not nice. They are not sharing. Let’s go find a dog for you to pet and then get a treat.”
I almost punched her. (I know…I’m aware of my horribleness. Sigh.)
But then I took a deep breath, kept my mouth shut, and felt sorry for her because she couldn’t see that I was doing her a favor (flawed though I was in my approach). I also felt sorry for her son. It’s not his fault that he has not been trained to obey. I then said to my kids, “Please pick up your toys and let’s go play on the swings.” They said, “Yes, Mommy,” picked up their stuff, smiled, and followed me to the other side of the playground.
Obedient children are the happiest children, I thought to myself.
I beat myself up for hours after that incident for not being more compassionate in my handling of the situation. I could’ve been gentler. I should’ve been gentler. Clearly I fail, time and time again, when it comes to truly loving my neighbor. I am not proud of this. Know that. But also hear this…
In our home, delayed obedience is disobedience. Why? Because, as Elisabeth Elliot (and Ephesians 6:1-2, 4) says, “Under God, parents have one set of duties—to train; children have another—to obey…the child whose will is trained to subjection is a freer, happier child, much pleasanter company that he whose own will is his own law.”
Children can and should be trained to obey the first time. This has been the expectation in our home since our children were mobile. I will go through some specific examples in my next post, but for now I just wanted to say to those of you who are struggling in this area what I should’ve said to the mother at the park:
It doesn’t have to be like this. You don’t have to exhaust yourself and those within earshot of you by playing battle of the wills games with your children. You have all the authority. Give up, once and for all, the “1…2…3…” game. If your child can obey on 3, he can obey on 1. If you are going to threaten to leave the park, then leave the park. Immediately. The establishment of your child’s trust in God begins with his trust in you, so mean what you say. Every time. There is power in that for you, security in that for your child, and peace in that for your home.