Should a child obey?
Many parents are concerned because their children do not always obey. Many parents fail to get obedience from their children because they themselves are muddled as to why they want obedience. Some parents make obedience an end in itself, instead of asking for it only when it is necessary for the well-being and safety of the child. Try to teach obedience only in important matters, such as insisting that the child stay within limits. Trying to teach obedience in itself can make a child timid and lacking in initiative or rebellious.
While it is true that a child must learn to obey, it is far more important to teach him to use good judgment than blind obedience. The number of times he should be asked to obey should be held to a minimum. Only those things of real importance should be insisted on, and where these things are concerned the child should be expected to obey.
Many parents fail to get obedience from their children because they ask it all day long in matters of little importance. Often the parent is telling the child to do something that is for the benefit of the parent. Perhaps such things should be requested, not demanded.
Where there are constant demands the child soon learns that he does not have to obey every time mother tells him to do this or do that, for she does not follow up. He takes a chance to see whether this is the time when she will make him do something or whether he can “get away with it.” Parents defeat their purpose if they ask obedience from a child in unimportant matters or in situations in which obedience is impossible. Sometimes, too, parents ask obedience from a child in such a tone of voice or in such a manner as to make the child respond in an obstinate way.
A child should be expected to obey requests that are reasonable and good for him, when what is asked involves his genuine health or safety needs or the rights of other people, when he is old enough to understand. He should be expected to take medicine, not to run into the street, not to turn on the hot water, not to take home something that belongs to somebody else. These are reasonable requests that the child must learn to follow.
The tone of voice used when a child must obey in a suddenly dangerous situation, such as occurs when a car is swerving around a corner, can indicate to the child that this is the moment when he must obey instantly. All other situations can be handled without severity, with a calm statement that this is what is to be done, and with patience and firmness in seeing that the child does it.
Parents should also expect obedience from the child in the everyday routines of his life. There cannot be continual arguments over coming to meals, time for baths and for going to bed, clean hands before meals, putting away playthings with help, or getting ready to go outdoors. However, as stated above, the way in which parents ask a child to do these things, and his feelings toward them, will determine whether he obeys in these routine situations. If they are “at” him all day long with many requests, he will not obey when they really want something done. It is better to make a statement allowing enough time for the child to finish what he is doing before he complies: “Johnny, it is almost time for us to go to market. Finish your game and then we’ll get ready to go”; or, “Mary, it is time for your story and bed. Finish coloring your picture and then we’ll put your baby to bed first.”
Parents should neither ask nor expect obedience from a child in matters in which he has a right to have free choice. For instance, he should be allowed, in fact encouraged, to decide which games to play, which friends to ask over, and how to arrange his own toys when he puts them away. Nor should obedience be required in such situations as giving a friendly greeting, talking to somebody, gentleness, politeness, consideration for others, willingness to play with other children, or saying, “I’m sorry.” These are not situations in which obedience should be forced. A child learns these things as he watches and copies his parents, not because they insist that he do them.
Obedience should never be expected in situations involving nervous habits, such as thumb-sucking, frequent masturbation, nail-biting, hair-twisting, failure to go to sleep, fears of any kind, or even the difficulty of sitting still. These cannot be stopped with a command because they have developed as the result of a child’s anxiety, concern, or un-happiness. They can be cured only when the cause is discovered and the child’s anxiety has been lessened.
In obedience, as in other kinds of behavior, parents should always be trying to teach the child responsible independence. They should help their child gradually to make his own decisions so that as he grows older he is able to learn how to become self-controlled, to know when obedience is wise and necessary, and when independence of action is best. Parents will be able to do this if they remember that a child will learn better from a person who he knows loves him and with whom he feels secure and happy. If parents have been battling with their child he is not likely to obey them willingly or follow their guidance. Parents cannot guide a child successfully unless he feels that they are warmly attached to him. However much parents know, or however much they want a well-behaved child, they must take time to build a happy relationship with the child before they can guide or teach him. The child must know that he has their affection if he is to follow their teaching.
It is important that the older people in the family set an example in this field of obeying. Many things in which we want a child to obey can be classed as things that should be requested. If mother requests father to do something, then his example of following out a request is copied by the child. If it is the habit of members of the household to request little of each other, yet to honor requests happily, the example is quickly learned by the child. If the child grows up in an environment where requests are honored, then the child may come to honor requests also.