Can you expect your children to always be obedient?

Can you expect your children to always be obedient?

There is much emphasis placed in our society on children obeying their parents, but is this a healthy expectation for parents to have? Carole Disseldorp of Easier Parenting examines the issue.

As a mother of four wonderful sons (teenagers and adults) and I have often observed a large number of parents getting very angry when their children don't do as they are told. The parents often become louder and more aggressive when the child doesn't comply with their request. Some parents start counting and others pressurise with threats that are often disrespectful and/or unlikely to be carried through. Others try to scare the child into submission.

Our children are not robots. Nor are they inferior to us. They are human beings who need guidance, respect and to be treated as equals. 

If parents could accept that their children might not obey, things could be a whole lot healthier and easier, in my opinion. Instead of intimidating, threatening and shouting, parents could let go of the need to control and use encouragement, consequences and deliberate ignoring (for minor misdeeds) instead. Acceptable behaviour needs to be acknowledged regularly, whilst unacceptable behaviour needs to be either ignored or followed with a reasonable consequence. Ignoring needs to be preceded with a firm, polite and calm request to stop the behaviour. Consequences need to be reasonable and respectful and preferably related to the misdeed. Alternatives can often be suggested to children to placate them.

For example if a young child starts drawing on a wall the parent can ask the child nicely to draw on some paper and then lead the child to find some paper. When the child draws on the paper, the parent needs to comment positively in some way. If the child keeps drawing on the wall, she can tell the child that the wall needs to be cleaned with a cloth, and move away. The parent could take the rest of the pencils/crayons (that the child is not holding) away.

Alternatively, she could avert her eyes and actively ignore the child and give attention to another child or activity. The child is likely to stop this behaviour if he is disregarded. If the child is drawing on the wall often, it may be a sign that the child is troubled, angry or not receiving enough nurturing. Children need lots of affection, positive attention, encouragement and stimulating play environments. They also need parents that set a healthy example.

Our children are not robots. Nor are they inferior to us. They are human beings who need guidance, respect and to be treated as equals. This doesn't mean that we allow them do whatever they want, however. Because parents have the benefit of years of experience and a more developed intellect, we need to influence our children to co-operate. This can be achieved readily by using positive wording, positive body language, encouragement, reasoning and action. Reasoning is more useful once the child reaches about three years of age. Distraction is a very useful method of moving children under three to another place or activity.

For example if a young child discovers a camera and starts playing with it, we can use many strategies. We can let him know that it is a valuable item that is for grownups to use, in a firm but gentle manner. We can then place the camera out of reach and offer the child either a toy camera, or another item which is appropriate and excites him.  If the child is older (3+), we can explain in more detail that the camera is expensive and needs to be handled with great care. Then we can ask the child nicely to play with something else. It is a good idea to entice the child by mentioning a toy or activity that he likes. Then the camera can be put away. A much older child can be taught to handle the camera with great care and shown how to use it or asked to be extremely careful with it. He can even be given the opportunity, at some time, to take photos, if he's interested. If an older child is intent on being rough with the camera, he needs to be told politely that he will need to pay/part pay for the repair/replacement if it is damaged. This must be carried through so that the child knows that the parent means what he says.

I truly believe that children have the right to refuse to do certain things that parents ask them to do. It is up to parents to provide a caring and optimistic environment that will encourage children to co-operate. A wise parent, in my opinion, will not react negatively if his child decides, from time to time, to not do something he has been asked to do by his parent. Some behaviours can be disregarded (after asking the child to cease nicely), while others need to have a logical consequence applied.

Article supplied by Parent Educator Carole Disseldrop of Easier Parenting.

Discuss your child and their behaviour in our Toddler & Kids forum. You can also discuss issues in the Challenging Behaviour & Discipline techniques forum.