How We Accidentally Teach Our Children To Disobey Us

(Adapted from chapter 4 of Child Training Tips)

by Reb Bradley


     Many parents struggle with anger, because their children do not obey the first time they are spoken to. Such parents find frustration growing the more they must repeat their commands. The children might finally obey, but only after the parent is on the edge of exploding. Parents of children like this find parenting exhausting and stressful. The thought of children sweetly obeying the first time they are spoken to seems like a dream.

     For frustrated parents I have good news -- children can easily be trained to obey the first time spoken to. The only reason they disobey is because you have accidentally taught them to. They have learned from you that they have many chances and don’t have to obey until you really mean business. You have unintentionally taught them that all repeated instructions are merely warnings.

     The solution for this problem is very simple. To teach a child to obey the first time you speak to them, give instructions only once and then bring a significant consequence for disobedience.

     Think about it -- if they have the ability to obey after the 3rd or the 100th time, they demonstrate that they have the ability to obey. They only postpone obedience because they are merely waiting for you to be serious about your request. You have taught them to disregard you most of the time when you speak.

     Parents can tell if they are in the habit of repeating themselves, if they say the same classic phrases spoken by parents for years, things like:

·       "I've told you a hundred times . . ."

·       "How many times must I tell you . . .!"

·       "I'm not going to tell you again . . !" (Of course you are going to tell them again – you are telling them again right now! Besides, they know when they hear that threat, they still have 3 more before you act.)

     Since you do not require obedience the first time you speak, your children must look for physical signs that tell them that you finally mean business. What signs have you trained your children to look for?

·      You raise your hand in a threatening manner.

·      You go get the spanking paddle.

·      Your voice gets harsh, your eyes narrow, and you use their middle name.

·      You clench your jaw and pronounce your words slowly and precisely.

·      Your voice gets so shrill, glass starts to shatter.

·      Your face reaches a familiar shade of red, your eyes bug out, and you slur your words in low guttural sounds. (The children may not even be certain which language you are speaking.)

·      That vein in your neck begins to pulsate.

·      You fly into a rage and begin screaming, "Now you've done it!  Are you happy? You've pushed me over the edge!"

·      You use some catch phrase, such as:

·       "I mean it!"

·       "Don't you look at me like that!"

·       "Do you want a spank?"

·       "All right! Now you're gonna get it!"

·       "Wait 'til your father gets home!"

·       "You keep that up and I'll give you something to cry about!"

·       "If I have to come in there, you're really going to get it!" or "If I have to get up …!" or "If I have to get out of bed …!" 


Conditioning children to respond to harshness

     Some parents might imagine that retraining is possible, but only if instructions are spoken harshly. Such a thought is erroneous. Speaking harshly conditions our children to respond only to harshness. The very fact that they respond only to commands given in a harsh or stern tone, means that they know all other commands from us are not to be taken seriously. The parents who say, "But they will only obey if I speak harshly," have accidentally created their own problem. Fortunately, we can recondition our children by giving all instructions calmly and one time. It doesn’t take children long to realize that ever time Mom or Dad speak sweetly they are to be taken seriously.


Repeated instructions are warnings

     As I previously stated, every time you repeat instructions you are giving warnings. With every warning your word becomes meaningless. If your word is meaningless, you've lost the respect necessary for successful training.


·      Warnings make you an accomplice to their crimes. By not bringing immediate consequences, you are aiding and abetting them in their disobedience.


·      Repeating instructions is a form of coddling which causes our children to grow dependent on us to remind them of their responsibilities. (Further discussion in chapter 7 of Child Training Tips)


Making threats

     Threats are another way for parents to teach children to disobey. A “threat” is really a warning or a second chance. Insecure parents who fear their children’s rejection will commonly threaten, so they can avoid bring disciplinary consequences. Parents who are sick or exhausted may also postpone bringing consequences, and are prone to making threats. Plain and simple, threats are an effort to gain cooperation without having to carry out a disciplinary measure.



Examples of making threats:

·      "If you don't do it, you're going to be in big trouble."


·      "Do you want a spank?"


·     "Want me to get the spanking paddle? Here I go. (Stomp, stomp, stomp). Okay, I'm getting the paddle. Okay, I've got it and I'm coming in now to give you a spank if you've not obeyed yet. Okay?"    Never threaten to spank. If your child is asserting his will against yours, causing you to want to warn him, he is already in need of chastisement. (Further discussion on chastisement in chapter 5 of Child Training Tips.)


·      Counting to 10 (or any number), ie:

"1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 8˝, 9, 9˝, 10. Wow, you juuuust made it."


·      Blatant lies. Typical: "Okay, we're leaving without you. Bye, bye."   


     It is important for parents to distinguish a threat from an instruction. An instruction is given early on in life and is reinforced from that point forward by disciplinary measures. Continued reminders of potential consequences are threats.


REMEMBER: We must not be angry at our children if they are not yet in the habit of obeying the first time we speak to them. Either they are young and we have not finished their training yet, or we have accidentally trained them to disobey, and it will require self-discipline on our parts to break our habit of repeating instructions. Either way, we must be patient – they are still in training!