Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Obedience & Habit Training

Have you watched the TLC Channel show 19 Kids and Counting? I have, regularly, and anytime the Duggar parents share wisdom, I take notes!

Michelle Duggar has a phrase that she often repeats for her little ones as she teaches them to listen and do what she and her husband tell them.

"When I say it, you obey it." She teaches this with such obvious love and gentleness.

This phrase is one she uses to teach what she calls "first time obedience", which means that the child obeys the first time he or she hears the request from Mom and Dad.

Imagine: no more begging, pleading, or complicated rewards systems to get our children to comply. This program comes at no cost, except from the parent, as an effort to open the mind, expand the understanding, and perhaps try something in earnest that may be new to him or her. Child training, with love!

I find it encouraging that the Duggars talk about this as training, meaning it's training for parents and children alike. It also takes time, and that's normal! It takes consistent, focused effort, but after it is learned, guess what! It works! The child willfully obeys and sometimes even happily.

Why? Isn't obedience tedious and dreadful? Isn't it limiting?

Most child development courses and books will teach you that children thrive when they understand clearly what expectations their parents have for them. Leaving them guessing and then punishing them when they misunderstand and then do something contrary to a parent's wishes makes them anxious and depressed. They feel like they can never measure up and that they are constantly failing!

Children naturally desire to be happy and they desire to please us, their parents--some children moreso than others, but there is that little spark in each of them. If you as a parent address that spark positively the first time, it will:

1. Build their own confidence in themselves
2. Build their trust in you
3. They will accomplish the tasks required of them
4. Positive character traits will grow in them that they can take into their adulthood

Now, isn't that result worth the kind of training it takes initially?

"Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it."

(Proverbs 22:6) 

It's much like that old saying, "An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure". That initial "ounce" of investment as parents that we give to our children as habit training may feel heavy at times, but we will be so grateful when the training is accomplished and we do not have to live our lives in regret watching our children carry the "pounds" of cure all on their own that result from not having our training.

We--as parents--are responsible to teach our children.  When we fail to teach our children the principles of God and basic life skills in ways meaningful to the child, we are effectively abandoning them to the ways of the world.

"And all thy children shall be taught of the Lord;
and great shall be the peace of thy children."
(Isaiah 54: 13)

"Withhold not correction from the child..."
(Proverbs 23:13)

This following applies to Mothers, as well:

"Fathers, provoke not your children to anger, lest they be discouraged."
(Colossians 3:21)

"And, ye fathers, provoke not your children to wrath: but bring them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord."
(Ephesians 6:4)

I am grateful for grace through the Lord's Atonement that adds to my own ability to parent. Even with my (still growing) understanding and sets of skills to teach my children, I cannot do this alone. My husband and I rely fully on the Lord to guide us, teach us, empower us, make up the difference for what we lack and forgive us when we make mistakes.

I Confess...

Anytime I have found myself raising my voice with anger to my children, it is very often because I have told them to do something, and been ignored, said it again, been ignored, and then just get so angry that they haven't done what I've asked, that I lose my temper, yell, and usually say things to that child I should not say. I have learned that this is inappropriate behavior towards my children and I am responsible to apologize and repent from acting that way.

But there is a better way! Teaching children to obey the first time, with exactness to the best of their ability, works wonders in our home! While not perfect at it, we are all improving all the time.

Keeping Jim Bob and Michelle's wisdom in mind, I have found that when I make eye contact and even softly touch the child I am talking with on his or her arm, make my request known directly and in a normal tone of voice (not as question or demand and not in a sugary-sweet-manipulative voice, but a simple request, like: "When you hear the timer beep, please put the dishes away. "), my child 9 times out of 10 will comply easily. No anger or angry outbursts required!

A Loophole...

My husband and I also have a policy in our family. Our children have full right to openly disagree with us. Some parents refer to this as "back talk." We see it as a useful skill for them to develop. Can you imagine your spouse telling you to do something and having absolutely no say in whether or not it is something you should do or not, especially when they may not know it could harm you?

We place equal value on our children, even though we do retain the right to have the final say in important matters (like, "No, you may not climb up on the roof and jump off. Let's find something else exciting for you to do but would also be safer.")

How do we phrase disagreements? We teach our young kids, when they are showing with words or emotions or body language that they are unwilling to do something right when we ask, to say this:
"I disagree..." and then what they disagree with and why.

One example recently:

I asked one of my sons to put the clean silverware in the dishwasher into the caddy on the counter, which is his daily responsibility. He balked and look grumpy. He started to shout and try to run away. I pulled him back, got on his level, and told him again what I wanted him to do.

Then I told him it was okay to disagree with me. I started the phrase for him so he'd understand how to tell me what he wanted. "I disagree..." and he filled in the rest "I don't like this job anymore. Give it to (his younger brother). He can do it; he likes it." I told him that was fine, but I needed his help, too. He thought for a moment and said, "I can put the laundry by the washer for you instead." I said I needed that kind of job done right away early in the morning because that is when it is the best time for me to do it.

I admire his persistence in this conversation; it wasn't easy for him to remain calm and express his ideas to me. We talked a little more and figured out that since the morning time he is very tired and slow-to-start, he and I will work together to get him started on his chore after everyone else is sleeping the night before. When he is confident and I am satisfied he knows how to do this job on his own the way I need it done, I no longer will have to help him learn it and he will do it on his own, with my inspections and acknowledging a job well done, from time-to-time.

He skipped away with a giant smile on his face! I was happy I no longer have to disrupt our good relationship by nagging him to do something another child will gladly get done. The work is lighter with more hands helping and he is happy he has a job to do that he enjoys and can grow in, and we get to spend a little time together gathering laundry and having a race pushing it to the washing machine.

Win, win, win, all around!

I understood then that he got angry at first because he was afraid that if he disagreed with me, I'd yell at him and he'd get in trouble and then not have his needs met. I think I might feel the same way in his place!

Parenting is often about putting ourselves in our children's shoes, so-to-speak, and show them compassion, while we remain their trusted parent and guide and help them learn the skills and character traits that will serve them well as they grow into adulthood. It takes dedication, patience, perseverance and lots and lots of repentance and forgiveness between parent and child, and sometimes between the parents themselves. We each are doing our best with what we understand to be true.

I have to give credit where it is due. The idea for this communication tool came from Nicholeen Peck and her Teaching Self-Government principles.

The word of God teaches parents this:

"And the servant of the Lord must not strive; but be gentle unto all men, apt to teach, patient, In meekness instructing those that oppose themselves; if God peradventure will give them repentance to the acknowledging of the truth"
 (2 Timothy 2: 24-25)
"But let it be the hidden man of the heart, in that which is not corruptible, even the ornament of a meek and quiet spirit, which is in the sight of God of great price. "
(1 Peter 3: 4)

and through continuing revelation from God to His latter-day prophet Joseph Smith:

 "...Govern your house in meekness, and be steadfast."
(Doctrine & Covenants 31:9)

"No power or influence can or ought to be maintained by virtue of the priesthood, only by persuasion, by long-suffering, by gentleness and meekness, and by love unfeigned;
By kindness, and pure knowledge, which shall greatly enlarge the soul without hypocrisy, and without guile—
Reproving betimes with sharpness, when moved upon by the Holy Ghost; and then showing forth afterwards an increase of love toward him whom thou hast reproved, lest he esteem thee to be his enemy;
That he may know that thy faithfulness is stronger than the cords of death."
 (Doctrine & Covenants 121: 41-44)

 You see, how we teach and treat our children prepares them in how they will turn their heart towards God or influences them to turn away from Him. I am not saying parents are always responsible for all of their children's choices or that if we make a mistake as parents, the children are doomed.

I do know that when I was taught the word of God with love as a child, whether by my parents or other loving teachers, my heart was softened toward choosing to follow God. When I did not feel love from my parents, but rather condemnation or simply was ignored, my heart was empty and not drawn towards Him.

Ultimately, parents will be held accountable to God for how we treat our children's hearts and how we lead them, or not, on a path toward living God's ways.

"Husband and wife have a solemn responsibility to love and care for each other and for their children. 'Children are an heritage of the Lord' (Psalm 127:3). Parents have a sacred duty to rear their children in love and righteousness, to provide for their physical and spiritual needs, and to teach them to love and serve one another, observe the commandments of God, and be law-abiding citizens wherever they live. Husbands and wives—mothers and fathers—will be held accountable before God for the discharge of these obligations."

("The Family: A Proclamation to the World")

Non-Negotiable: Mom & Dad are a Team!

One thing our children know for certain: they are not going to be able to have one parent cater to their whims over the other parent's wishes. When my husband hears me give a request to a child, it is not uncommon for him to pipe up, even from another room, "Listen to your mother!" This reinforcement means so much to me, in terms of feeling my husband's support in my mothering emotionally. It also prevents the child from any doubt coming to their mind that perhaps Dad will rescue them from having to obey Mommy. I return the favor to my husband when he is the one giving a child a request to do something, or to stop teasing, etc. "Listen to your Dad!"

We are working on the times when we disagree about how to correct children in certain situations. It is not easy to do this privately, always. That is something we are still learning to do better, to find ways to solve discrepancies in our opinions of how to correct certain recurring behaviors, out of ear shot of the kids. One idea I have yet to put to the test is to write these differences in opinion on parenting issues down on a small notepad (or message myself on my phone, whichever is handier), and then bring these up to pray and search the word of God together on Sunday as a couple. I want to do this soon.

I know that when a couple counsels together and is in unison in their parenting, the Lord's spirit will be invited into the situation and make up the difference.

Why is the meaning of this word: "Obey"? 

What does this term really mean?

To make it simple for my children to understand, I teach them that "obey" means to
1. Listen (pay attention)
2. Do

It takes both parts of that equation to equal obedience!

When you have a lot of people in a household and family, obedience quickly becomes a necessity. It keeps things running smoothly and helps each individual get their needs met.

Obedience isn't something reserved only for children.

God gave His children, all people on this planet, commandments because He loves them and knows best. We each have personal responsibility and will be held accountable for our choices we make each day to follow God's laws or not, as we are aware and understand them.

Obedience is a bridge to help our children learn self-control.

Someday, our children will be adults and no one will be around to tell them to brush their teeth, pay their taxes, go to work, or do the dishes.  Hopefully, when we as parents fulfill our obligation to our kids to raise them to gain for themselves positive life skills and habits, they will have learned these important things and be able to function as adults, on their own.

Our place, as parents of adults, then, will be to encourage them and pray for them, not rescue them repeatedly or boss them around. I can imagine that successful child-training would negate the need for "helicopter parents", who maneuver their children through life, well into that child's young adulthood.

What does this mean? Telling children repeatedly to do things, so that they will only do things if told to by an authority figure, or even just doing it yourself without allowing the child the opportunity to do it for him/herself, is not the kind of parenting that will prepare them for mature adulthood. The child will, more likely than not, constantly be doubting him/herself and looking to someone to "rescue" them, if this is the only method of parenting applied in the home. I don't know about you, but that is not the kind of life I want to plan and create for my children! (or myself!)

God himself does not want to be our "helicopter parent"! He wants us to show all the good we can do in our lives each day without being commanded in all things. This expectation goes for all of His children, no age specified! He teaches in Doctrine & Covenants 58: 26-29:

"For behold, it is not meet that I should command in all things; for he that is compelled in all things, the same is a slothful and not a wise servant; wherefore he receiveth no reward.
 Verily I say, men should be anxiously engaged in a good cause, and do many things of their own free will, and bring to pass much righteousness;
 For the power is in them, wherein they are agents unto themselves. And inasmuch as men do good they shall in nowise lose their reward.
 But he that doeth not anything until he is commanded, and receiveth a commandment with doubtful heart, and keepeth it with slothfulness, the same is damned."
So, one more take on this aspect of child-raising is found in a blog post by Diane Hopkins entitled : "Hard Easy". It's worth a read!

 If Obedience results in blessings, why don't we always Obey?

I know sometimes I resist obedience to true principles because I doubt they have the power to give me what I want. Or I feel they may restrict me in some way. I feel anger towards someone who may exercise authority over me. When I am in that frame of mind, I am in the wrong and missing out on so many benefits of obedience because I have not learned what the true nature of God is and the reason for obedience.

When we learn the true nature of God, not as a mean dictator out to make us miserable whether we like it or not, but as He truly is, as a loving parent who wants the best for us and as we trust Him and follow His guidelines, we will find success as He designs it for our lives and peace in the process. He will never make us do anything, even for our benefit: He ultimately respects our autonomy to choose.

  "For I know the plans I have for you,” says the Lord. “They are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope.  In those days when you pray, I will listen.  If you look for me wholeheartedly, you will find me."
(Jeremiah 29: 11-13, New Living Translation)

I know that is true because I have made choices to be disobedient and obedient at different times in my life, and you know what, I choose the blessings that result from obedience to God's laws anytime! They are truly designed to protect us and keep us free to learn and grow throughout our lifetime.

May we, as parents, be encouraged by God's word to walk in the light of His truth and teach our children to do so. It does and will continue to bless our lives and the lives of those around us.

With Kindness,

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  1. Excellent post Eve. Good lessons all around.

  2. Great post Eve! I love the Duggar way of parenting. As well as the Pecks. You put them together so well. Great reminder!

  3. Kristin, thanks for your comment.

    Amanda, glad you stopped by. Funny you should comment this week, you and your family have been on my mind. Hope the garden is growing and the goat milk's still flowin', :^D

  4. I was cheering for your boy who disagreed with you! What an incredibly important lesson you have taught him to be able to disagree and negotiate on his own behalf.

    I have spoken with so many parents who think that making the children help is a bad thing, that they should just be allowed to be children. Then the children get older, and the same parents get so frustrated because the kids just take.

    We raised our girls the same way, teaching them that being responsible was a good thing. While there were many times it would have been easier to just do things ourselves, in the long run we would have had two daughters who were incapable of even the most basic responsibilities of living on their own.

    Thanks for showing the steps to how it is done. This was terrific!

  5. Hi, Kim! Thanks for visiting and for your comment!

  6. wow, some great wisdom here Eve! I'm going to come back and read it again when I'm not so tired lol (it's night over here):)

  7. Glad to know you liked it, thanks for reading and for your comment, Rosemary!


Thanks for your comment today! I love reading your thoughts, too. :-)