By Jim Dempsey, Ph.D.
Let’s face it. Your child has an agenda different from yours. When you tell them to clean up so that you can get to school on time, it may be important to you but that does not mean your child sees any value in it. And when your children don’t value your command, they resist obeying it. Understanding this simple concept helps you to empathize with them. It’s hard to set aside your agenda just because someone else wants you to. Just as adults want to fulfill their agendas, kids do too.
So first of all, as you approach your child to give him or her a direction, consider whether this is the best time to give it. Is your child deeply engaged in something that is hard to set aside? If so, maybe waiting a few minutes would help foster the cooperation you want. Or, perhaps you can give them a ‘two-minute warning’ notice. “Johnny, in just a few minutes, I’m going to ask you to… I need you to be ready by then.” You could even set a timer to signal to the child that now is the time to get ready to receive your direction.
Another important way to help your child set aside their agenda in order to follow your instruction is to teach them about the urgency of obedience. Children naturally are ego-centric, meaning they see the world through the limited framework of their own desires and experience. They need help to see the needs of others and value them. You see the urgency of a family need (to stay on schedule, to prepare a meal, to brush teeth and avoid a big dental bill) but your children may not. They have to be taught these views and values. How can we help children see the bigger picture and value the jobs you give them to do?
One way is to teach them what it means to go on a mission. When you give your child an instruction, you are in essence sending them on a mission. We need to teach children the right approach and mindset for going on a mission. Here’s a fun way to introduce this concept with kids: (We’ll do it in two phases) In phase one, talk with them about the kinds of jobs that have important missions. Let them suggest careers or jobs that involve missions (they might know about firefighters, ambulance drivers, soldiers, or astronauts, etc.) Read books about these kinds of helpers and the way they go about their work. Involve humor by telling a silly story about a firefighter on the way to big fire who stopped by the ice cream store to buy ice cream. Of course, that would be absurd, right?
In phase two play a game with your child(ren) by setting up an obstacle course through your house. Have your child run the course and time them from a starting point to the ending point. Then have them run the course again and try to distract them or get them off course with a little enticement like candy or a worthless toy. After the fun, talk about how you sent them on a mission to run the obstacle course, but they didn’t let anything stop them. Celebrate the fact that they didn’t get distracted by the toy or candy. They completed their job as if they were on a mission! Use these fun experiences to remind your children later when you give them a real instruction. Help them see how your family runs more smoothly when they follow your instructions right away.
When I operated my own business, the term “mission critical” became the topic of books and seminars for success. When something is mission critical, its absence results in the failure of the mission. In other words, it is essential to fulfilling the primary goal. Teaching your children the value of instruction is mission critical in the job of parenting. Obedience is a great goal, but developing a heart to follow your instructions is an even greater goal. Proverbs 3:1 captures the main point of the whole book – “My son, do not forget my teaching, but let your heart keep my commandments.” Punishment might bring about obedience, but if you want children to value instruction, then you must teach them its worth.
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Used with permission. Jim Dempsey is the Family Pastor at Anderson Mill Baptist Church in Austin and a consultant for the National Center for Biblical Parenting.