I have just seen the funniest thing… our dog was doing something we weren’t sure we wanted him to be doing so we got his attention. He was a long way away – and we weren’t 100% sure if he knew we were calling him or not. So we watched – oh the indecision. He stopped doing what he was doing and looked at where he thought we were. For a while he looked at us, fairly intensely, and then he walked a few paces towards us and then stopped. He then stood there looking back at what he was doing, looking at us, what he was doing, us. He then nonchalantly walked a little further towards us, but no eye contact. Pause. Look back. Look at us. We watched this indecision for about 4 minutes. Should I obey? But I was having so much fun!
This reminded me of obedience from our children – except more often than not we don’t give them the time to fully process. If their response has the slightest of pauses, we would consider it disobedience.
Back to our dog… he eventually walked all the way back to the house and I sent the kids out to give him praise, and a good rub. Now, I’m not too sure about dogs and moral choices etc, but out of his training he made a good choice, he came when called and we didn’t have to get cross with him.
We need to give our children – yes, even as young as toddlers, the time it takes for them to make a choice. It is in making a choice that they obey, it is in making a choice that they learn.
I’m not saying we just wait till they feel like obeying but if we can see them processing, if we can see an internal struggle – “Will I? Won’t I?” – going on, we need to give them that time to make their choice.
Now I believe obedience needs to be first time – that means I shouldn’t have to repeat myself. Obedience needs to be straight away, not delayed or done when the child feels like it – but what does this actually look like? We tend to interpret straight away as instantaneous almost robotic action to a command. I think straight away needs to mean that they pause what they do (straight away), consider what you say, and make a choice.
This process is internal and sometimes very quick – we can’t hear it, but more often than not we can see it.
- If their choice is, “Nah, I don’t think I will” – then we have disobedience.
- If they say, “Yep, in a minute” – then we have disobedience.
- But if we have “I hear you mum, will I or won’t I?” – then that is a process that our kids have to go through.
The end product will be obedience or disobedience – and that is what we need to act upon.
As a child grows older, and understands the issues and importance of obedience, they should be able to come to a choice quicker – but they still need to make that decision. I have seen this indecision on a child’s face as young as 2. They know what is right, but will they do it? We need to let them come to a choice, and then deal with their disobedience or praise them for their obedience.
When we insist on instantaneous obedience, a knee-jerk reaction to our voice, we are really functioning out of our own impatience; we are not really training the heart of our child – we are making robots. I want my children to choose to do the right thing, and when they are children that includes obedience (though this moves into respect and responsibility when they grow older.)
We need to teach and train, not just expect and demand. Obeying is a choice – a child is often in the same quandary as my dog – enjoying what they are doing, and yet hearing the voice of their parent calling them. Oh the indecision!
So if your child has been taught to respect, listen and obey, then next time you call, give them the time to make their choice. Will they? Or Won’t they? Only when they have the time to process and make that choice, will you know if you have obedience or not.