How to Raise an Obedient Child

The authors of 'Childwise' offer a shortcut for getting kids to follow instructions

BY: Gary Ezzo and Robert Bucknam, M.D.

 
Of all the practical helps we can offer, this one has undoubtedly the most impact on a child's willingness and ability to comply the first time.

Require your children to respond to your instructions with a "Yes, mom" or "Yes, dad." Such a response does not leave you second-guessing. You do not have to ask repeatedly, "Did you hear me?" which only undermines your leadership. Upon saying, "James, in five minutes Mom is going to ask you to put away your puzzle." Mom should hear back, "Yes, Mom."

Why a verbal response? Number one, it is the child's acknowledgment that in fact he heard you. A "Yes, mom" lets you know that your child is either committing himself to obedience by taking the appropriate action or to disobedience by avoiding the task asked of him. But there's no question that he heard.

How does a verbal response produce obedience? A parent's initial instruction draws a line in the sand. "Honey, Mom wants you to pick up your crayons right now, please." She should stick with that. If she repeats her instruction, she draws a second line in the sand. It is a small retreat. "Did you hear me? Pick up your crayons." Another repeat is yet a greater retreat. Soon, Mom's on the floor either begging the child or picking up crayons.

But in contrast, when your child gives back to you a "Yes, mom," an amazing thing happens. Your child hears himself commit to obey. He draws the line in the sand himself. There's just something about hearing himself agree to something that elicits an internal compulsion for compliance.

"Yes, mom" or "Yes, dad" stops conflict at the point of instruction. Parents experience more frustration at times of instruction than in any other single activity in parenting. Why? Because it is at this point that children decide to obey or disobey. Disobedience brings conflict, and usually the repeating parent comes out losing. Once repeating starts, obedience is lost and frustration wells up. And that is with just one child.

The antidote? Never get out of the instruction phase without an agreement to obey. An up-front "Yes, mom" virtually eliminates the problem....

Recently, one of the Ezzo grandchildren paid a visit. After finishing some schoolwork, Ashley called her grandmother. "Grammy?" Anne Marie answered, "Yes, Ashley." For children, a "Yes, Mom" is a moral requirement. That is because they are in the process of becoming moral. For adults, "Yes, Ashley," is a moral courtesy, given by one who has reached maturity.

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