Are you looking for tips for teaching first-time obedience to your children, or restoring obedience after realizing that you haven’t been requiring it as you should?
I shared this quote on my Facebook page recently, regarding the importance of obedience:
The best curriculum won’t work with a child who has not been trained in the habit of obedience. Your child must learn to obey or you can never serve as his teacher!
Several of my readers then messaged me asking me if I could give some specific ideas to help them, as they were having trouble getting their children to obey.
Those requests inspired me to write this post for those times when you are struggling as a parent to teach your child to obey or get them back in the habit when you have let obedience slide.
Learn 10 Crucial Tips for First Time Obedience!
When our kids were very young, my husband and I worked hard to teach them the importance of obeying the first time they were told to do something. It took a lot of training, practice, and reminding, but we felt that first-time obedience was vital for two reasons:
- We wanted them to learn to obey the first time, so when God spoke to them they would obey Him without question.
- Safety reasons.
If they were about to run in front of a car, we couldn’t risk them waiting till the 3rd time we said “Stop!” Or if they were about to touch a hot stove, they needed to know that when we said “don’t touch!” they should immediately stop.
In reality, if our kids can obey us the 3rd or 4th time we tell them something, they have the ability to obey the FIRST time, so why not require it?
Related: Is Your Parenting Leading Your Kids To Rebellion?
Picture the parents who use the “1, 2, 3” method. Their child has been trained that they don’t have to move or obey right away, but can wait till right before Mom or Dad says “3”. Repeating your commands or threatening them like this, trains them to disobey.
Children who wait till we have raised our voice, threatened, or told them something several times, do so because they’ve been “programmed” or trained that way by the parents. We shouldn’t get angry with them, since we have unknowingly trained them to wait to obey. (Are You An Angry Parent?)
So what should you do if your children are in the habit of not obeying the first time you speak to them?
Don’t get angry, but realize that either they are still young and in training, OR that you have unintentionally trained them to disobey.
At that point, it’s up to YOU to have the self-discipline to break the habit of repeating instructions. In either instance, patience will be required, as training is still in progress.
10 Tips For First-Time Obedience
1. Sit down and talk to them about the problem.
Take the blame, and let them know that God says that children should obey their parents. They need to understand that when they wait to do what they are told, it’s not obedience. (Obedience is doing what you’re told, right away, with a good attitude.)
2. Explain and give examples of right and wrong responses when they are told to do something.
Then PRACTICE right responses. This is especially important for younger kids. We would turn it into a game, and clap and praise when they responded right during our practice sessions.
3. Pray with them asking God to help them to obey right away, and to help you, the parent, be consistent, as well.
4. Let them know that for the next few days you will remind them when their response is wrong (disobedient). Then ask them to try again.
Bad habits take time to change, so we can’t just expect them to instantly start responding right if we have allowed them to wait till the 3rd or 4th time.
5. Consider a character chart, where you give stickers each time you catch them responding right.
Positive reinforcement is always my first choice for encouraging changes in behavior. Have a reward when a certain number of stickers have been earned. (Get our FREE character charts!)
6. After a few days of reminding, and practicing the correct behavior, let them know that you now EXPECT them to continue this way without reminders.
Set them up for success by giving some easy or fun commands early in the day, then praising the obedience. This will make the other kids eager to try, and also serve as a reminder of what is now expected.
7. Determine an appropriate consequence for disobedience, and let the kids know in advance what it is.
Then when they “forget” and don’t obey the first time, you can calmly call them aside and talk to them about it, and remind them of the consequence they will receive because of their disobedience.
8. Be consistent, and don’t fall back into the old habit of telling them often, or threatening and raising your voice.
When you aren’t consistent, they learn to take chances. It’s not fair to make them wonder each day if you are going to be strict, or if one or two of them might get away with pushing the limits. Consistency will lead to frustration free discipline.
9. Be sure and show grace when needed.
If a child is doing very well, but is having a bad day and messes up, determine whether it’s out of rebellion, or more of an immaturity issue that needs to be worked on.
10. If you are going through an extra busy time, or for some reason DO find that you have fallen back into the habit of giving orders more than once, or yelling to get the kids to listen, call another family meeting.
Admit that you haven’t been training them to obey as you should, apologize for your inconsistency, and once again have a few days of training and practice.
It’s easy to gradually let things slip, and we all are prone to it. Don’t get discouraged, and don’t get angry with the kids. Realize the need to address the issue, and ask God to help you to be consistent!
11. Listen to your child.
If you want your child to obey you, you need to lead by example. This doesn’t mean you need to “obey” your child, but it does mean that you should demonstrate to your child that you listen when they speak and react positively and quickly to what they say.
12. Don’t Compromise.
We encourage compromise in our marriages and relationships, but our children need very clear boundaries when it comes to discipline. If you compromise when your child is misbehaving, this will teach them that your rules are bendable. You want to establish that you will not compromise when it comes to their safety and well-being.
13. Make family roles clear.
We as parents need to put our relationship with our spouse FIRST, then our children. Why? This teaches our children that while they have a very important role in the family dynamic, they are not THE most important person in the household. When a child thinks they are the most valuable member of the family, they don’t necessarily see a need to obey, because they think they call the shots. So nurture that marriage first, and model to your child a solid foundation that they get to be a part of.
14. Create a schedule for your children to stick to.
Bored kids tend to get into more trouble. Having a routine, especially when you homeschool gives healthy boundaries for your child, while also filling their time with constructive and positive activities.
15. Create a unified front for your children.
As we talked about above, it’s important that you and your spouse are on the same page. You also need to be certain that you agree 100% when it comes to discipline and character building in your kids so that you can support each other and back each other up when issues arise. If one of you compromises on the rules, it teaches the kids that the other parent’s rules don’t need to be followed, or are unimportant. So be sure you see eye to eye on all things discipline.
Do you want to reinforce first-time obedience in a positive way?
I have the perfect (FREE!) tool for you – an Obedience Chart to use with your kids!
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So sorry for the abuse you dealt with growing up. I am absolutely against that, and if you follow my blog you know I’m VERY big into building relationships with your kids, and winning their hearts into submission rather than scaring them into it. Yes – there should be grace, and lots of training. So when they don’t obey right away you ask them to try again, reminding them of what is expected. Never should it involved beating, intimidation, or bullying. Lots of love while teaching and training, remembering that they are little humans that need to be treated right.
This topic is a double-edged sword. I do not think you are implying to abuse children at all, so please don’t take what I am about to say that I am implying such a thing. However, I was raised in a strict, “Christian” home where first-time obedience was demanded, and we were beaten, bullied, and intimidated by our parents, if we ever slipped up. There was never any understanding of child development (little kids forget sometimes, it’s difficult for little kids to sit through long church services, older kids can get lippy with their parents etc etc) and anytime we made any little mistake, we were abused. (think Michael and Debi Pearl here, I can’t talk about the specifics of what my parents did as I still get panic attacks from it) If I was upset at all about the abuse, I was mocked and told “you deserved it, you didn’t listen” So, even though I do agree children need to listen to their parents, there needs to be some wiggle room as well, for various development stages, as well as that they are kids, they are still learning. Home should be a safe place to make mistakes, otherwise (speaking from my own experience) children grow into adults who are afraid of the world and afraid to ever make a mistake. This is a recipe for a life of anxiety and struggles.
I’m interested to know your opinion too. Thanks!
Hi Tamara, I will email you about this. Thanks!
Hi! I really enjoyed your blog and have found some very helpful info in many of your blogs,however, I was wondering what your opinion is on this option of obedience.
This really makes a lot of sense to me and I’m interested to know your opinion. Thanks!
It sounds like you are doing a good job at being consistent and firm with her. You may need to consider what consequences would work better to make her learn that it’s better to obey all the way, and the right way. What she is doing is showing passive rebellion, and I would talk to her about how that is disobedience and not pleasing to God. Always bring it back to what God says in His Word, and what is pleasing to Him, and remember than training takes time and much repetition – especially with one who is testing the boundaries. Stay calm and consistent – eventually she will start doing better!
Thank you for this post!
I have a 6.5 year old that is a boundary pusher . She does not take responsibility for her actions (blames others for her actions and consequences, etc). She is very smart and deliberately disobeys on her own rebellious ways (doing things slowly, or sloppy . Doing what we ask almost exactly how we ask, but not 100% as we have asked . Or sometimes flat out refusing .).
I need help and suggestions please. She’s a sweet girl but the disobedience is becoming more and more of an issue.
We do character development as part of our homeschool, always have . Our rules are the same , we are consistent, fair , firm,
I am printing off this article now .
Any other suggestions?
Hi Jody! I sent you an email. 🙂
Hi, Wow you have such a wealth of information on your site. Barley touching the surface. I am really interested in FTO as we struggle daily with listening. I have 2 boys 5yo and an almost 4yo. I am praying we are not too late. As I have been reading the foundation is laid 3-5yo. We definitely give too many chances, warnings, threats and the count down. I feel if we dont do that then they are always in trouble. The 5yo is a boundary pusher, the 4yo is more a follower. We have tried many types of discipline. We always fall back on spanking as I struggle with an appropriate consequences to match the undesired behavior. For instance they do the very think I ask them not to do or they already know they are not to do something and they just say “i forgot” It is direct disobedience. If you have any personal tips for my family I would be extremely grateful.
I wrote a post about consequences that I think will help you with these questions. You can find it here:
Hi Shelly, I’ll keep that need in mind as a future project. 🙂
Hello. This is a very interesting article but I wish there was more details and examples. I’m having a very hard time understanding exactly how this approach could be used with very small children. I would love to find a way to teach the children I provide care for to be obedient or listen at all or even just be nice to each other. The number one problem in my child care is behaviour. However, from what you described I don’t understand how this approach could be used for children under the age of perhaps 5 years old. If you ever decide to write a more detailed approach to use for children under the age of 4 I’d love to read it. Thanks
Thank you for this wonderful post. I have a for year old and a two year old and I’m going to work on this right away. However, could you give me some ideas of how to implement consequences? I struggle with finding natural consequences for certain behaviors that do not end up just being punishments.
For example, what do you do if the child refuses to sit down to eat, or gets up before being done? Do you leave then without dinner?
Or what consequence do you use of they are being mean or not sharing? Usually we take the not shared you away, but it doesn’t usually hello to change the behavior.
What about if they do not get their way on something they want and start throwing a tantrum, hitting or screaming? We try to use a call voice and a time out (usually on the crib where they cannot just get up and go play), but sometimes that escalates and it breaks my heart. We try to stay connected, have quality time, and use positive parenting, but some of these behaviors are hard to curve and there aren’t many natural consequences that are influential enough to make an impact.
Any advice you may have for these three scenarios would be much appreciated!
Hi Becky! Each situation is different — but let’s say our kids didn’t pick up their toys when they were told to — a good consequence would be “I’m sorry – but since you can’t take care of these toys (the ones left out) we will have to put them away for awhile. The key is to relate the consequence to the offense. Also — there are times (shouldn’t be a regular thing once they have been trained) that you can give them a chance to “try again” == especially if they have been doing pretty good with obeying but are having a bad day. (Just like God shows us grace/mercy at times.
What types of consequences do you use when the aren’t obedient the first time?
Wonderful reminders! We are currently traveling and living out of a hotel, due to this, I have allowed my children to get away with much more than usual. They are sensing my lack of commitment and have been testing their limits. We need to stick to our rules regardless of where we are. Thank you for the great ideas! God bless.
This looks like a fantastic resource for parents. I’m pinning and plan to share with the young moms in my family.
Thank you Denise! Glad you enjoyed the post. I’m glad you focus on relationship, because that is SO vital! Being strict and having rules with no relationship often leads to rebellion. Keep up the good work!
Kathie! This is soooo good! My husband and I are very strict with our kids, so this is something I’m very passionate about. Being very strict though comes with lots and lots of relationship with each child, investing and pouring life into them more than the amount of discipline. Thanks for sharing you tips on this.
Hi Michelle! Glad you liked the post. Being consistent is a challenge for every mom, I think! And choosing appropriate consequences can be challenging. It’s best if you choose consequences that fit the offense when possible. For example, if they leave their bike out in the rain when they were told to put it away, they don’t get to use it for a set time because they haven’t been responsible in taking care of it. If they don’t do their chores, give them additional chores. As far as the fits go – I would make him go and sit on the bottom step or a place where there is nothing he can do (no toys) and away from the others. Calmly tell him he has to sit there until he’s done screaming. When he stops ask him if he is done, and if he says yes, then go and talk to him about it. Express understanding that he was upset about whatever, and then let him know there are better ways to handle it, and give suggestions. Then practice. Do whatever it was that set him off, and have him respond right. Next time he throws a fit do it again. Make sure he never gets what he wants when he is pitching a fit, and that it is never worth it.
I love this post and really need to be consistent. My challenges include slowing down to follow through on my first time instruction, praising them when they obey the first time and also having appropriate consequences when they don’t obey. Those consequences seem to be the hardest. Do you have good suggestions for our 10 y.o girl, 8 y.o. girl, and 5 y.o. boy (who is really pitching some major screaming fits these days)?
We just started home schooling this year and character is something we certainly need to spend time developing. I really appreciate your wisdom and guidance!
Hi Carrie! At that age they are definitely learning and need lots of training — I suggest staying very close to them all day and training each time it is necessary. Like touching something they shouldn’t — hold their wrist or hand and say NO. Then keep at it till they realize they can’t touch it. With calling them to come, it might take a little longer, but try practicing it with your husband’s help, and eventually they will get it. It really requires A LoT of time at that age, but once they get it and begin to obey, things will be much easier!
What about young toddlers? My twin boys are 19 months old, and I really need to instill FTO now for everyone’s safety and sanity. Your tips are good, but seem to be geared for older toddlers. Any ideas for me?
Hi Michelle, That’s a hard question! My little granddaughter will be 3 in August, and she does the same thing. She doesn’t mean to be bad — she thinks it’s funny or a game to run away. However, if I get stern with her and tell her “Grandma said come — you need to come right now” she will usually listen. If she doesn’t, I will go get her and sit her on the couch for not listening. She cries for a few minutes, then I have her apologize and I remind her that she needs to listen, and I let her up. I guess the key thing is to determine whether it is deliberate disobedience or just childishness that needs training. I wouldn’t do the threats, but rather work on positive reinforcement. Play a game where you practice with him — tell him when Mommy calls you, you say “yes Mom” or “yes ma’m” and come running. (It’s easier to do this if you husband is helping encourage him to run to you, then he calls him to come back to him. Each time he does it,hug him, clap, and tell him good boy! You came when Mommy (or Daddy) called you. Practice every day for awhile till you start seeing him remember at other times. Training and practice is important at that age. So be consistent, and keep working with him.
Hi! My son is just shy of 3 (33 months). He does obey decently and truly does want to do the right thing; however, he sometimes does the opposite of what I ask just to get a reaction. For example, he likes to think getting out the door is a game. Instead of coming to me to get his shoes on he laughs and runs away. I have to pretend I’m ready to leave for him to come running (I know this is not good!). I almost have to make a threat for him to comply – “come to the table or daddy might eat your sandwich.” I know I’ve gotten into an awful habit but I just don’t know how else to get him to obey right away! I want obedience to come from love and not fear of consequences or an eaten sandwich ;). I give him options whenever possible but sometimes he has to obey no matter what. Any ideas?
My dad used to always tell me “Slow obedience is disobedience.” I hated that mantra back then, because it called out my rebellion in ways I wasn’t willing to admit. I now fully intend to use it on my kids. 🙂
Thank you for the straightforward post. It was a pleasure to read.
For a three year old, that is kind of common behavior as well as something she has gotten into the habit of doing. Before consequences, I would spend a week or two working with her regularly. In the morning have a little character lesson about obedience. (Little Lads & Ladies of Virtue would be great for her!) Explain that obedience is doing what you’re told WITH a good attitude. (No whining or complaning) Then do some role playing with wrong responses — make it fun, and remind her that’s what we DON’T do. Then practice right responses. Ask her to do something and have her respond right. Much of training at that age is practicing the right responses. When she gets it wrong, stop her and say: “Let’s try that again and see if you can respond better this time.” Try to be very consistent and remind her EACH time she forgets. After a couple weeks of practice and reminder, she should have better habits in this area. I would let her know she’s doing great, and maybe use our character chart then and tell her EACH time she obeys with a good attitude she’ll get a mark on her chart, and after so many marks she will get a treat. Brag on her to daddy when she does well. POSITIVE reinforcement is the best way to get kids to repeat desired behavior. After all the training, let her know there she has learned, and there will be consequences for not obeying. (But strive to look for and catch the positive cuz that will encourage her to try.) Be gentle when she fails, and let her know “I’m sorry you didn’t obey. Now you have to sit in time out for 3 minutes. When the timers goes off you can get up. If you complain, we will start over, etc.
What are good consequence ideas for not obeying the first time or if she does obey the first time she usually grumbles and whines. She is 3. I usually put her in time out, but more often than not she gets a nasty attitude for the punishment and always repeats the action. I’ve tired sitting down with her and going over me requiring first time obedience, but she usually doesn’t do it.
Hi Nellita, I’m so glad the post was a blessing to you! I would love to answer your question, but am at a conference for the weekend. Will you please email me so I will be reminded to get back to you on this next week? (firstname.lastname@example.org
Hi Kathie – thank you so much for the post, it really blessed me. I have an almost 7 year, 5 year and already 2 1/2 year old, plus 3 month old baby. Obedience in our household seems to come only after threatening (mainly the almost 5 year old, although my oldest also have bad moments, and the 2 1/2 year old seems to be picking up on what the oldest two are doing, so he is swiftly becoming a delayer when it comes to obedience). Even though I believe in first-time obedience, we’ve not been good at practicing it, so i’m looking forward to implementing the things you mentioned here. I wanted to ask though whether you had examples of how to make the immediate obedience into a game as you mentioned in #2? 😀 Thank you!
Hi Annie! It sounds like you kind of gave yourself a list of tips to work on already. 🙂 I think you are on the right track with your thinking. The main thing is being consistent – practice having them answer and obey the first time. When they don’t, remind them, and give the order again. Really praise them when they remember! Praise goes SO far with motivating kids to listen and obey. They really do want to please us, so let them know how pleased you are when they listen the first time,etc. When you are busy try to be extra aware to follow up. If possible work together with your hubby on this too. Often when I was busy cooking dinner, I’d call out orders over my shoulder, never paying attention to if they were even listening. My husband would jump in and tell them to answer me and obey, or he’d remind me that I didn’t get a response from them.
So those are just a few thoughts. Hope they help!
Kathie, I would love to sit, share/process and get some helpful tips and hints. My husband and I have 3 children, 1yr. 6mon., 2yr.7mon., and 3yr.11mon. year olds. My husband and I had our first when I was just shy of 30 and we felt convicted by the Lord that we were too strict and not meeting his need or personality. So since we have really tried to know him, look at motives, speak eye to eye, love him well, train him/ teach him, be consistent in our discipline when they have disobeyed. BUT, I feel like we are out of control. Asking 3-10 times to get pants, shoes, to come to me (2year old especially, who thinks it’s a game).
Finding this post has been very good reminders on things my husband and I are doing that we could change. 1. the repeating of the request and of their names.
2. not always having them practice the positive response.
3. not having a chart to help them see and visualize their progress with a reward
4. This one I feel so bad about: but appearing to my children tired, frustrated, and like I’m not enjoying them.
I want to lead them by example to love the Lord and obey Him our of a heart of love and humility. I want them to obey me also out of love. We do ALOT of “time outs” with a timer because of the overwhelming business of our home so that they know we haven’t forgotten them in time out and will re-set timer if behavior hasn’t improved and talk with them on why, the importance of obedience and pray with them. BUT I still feel like I’m failing due to the utter chaos of many days. Mainly in repeated asking and repeated disobedience. I also think due to lack of structure. I plan to include more structure with visual calendars and schedules that they can see and participate in. Thank you for your time Kathie. Annie
Any tips? Thoughts?
Loved this list of ideas. I am going to try it. I have a 13 year old who may need a different approach. 🙂 Thanks for this! Visiting from Thriving Thursdays!
Stephanie, good for you! It IS a lot of work, but so worth it. You will be so glad you took the time you did to lay that foundation.
We have been working on this with our toddler. My hubby and I have been reading many James Dobson books lately, and he says you have between the ages of 3-5 to set up that foundation of first time obedience. It’s so much work, but I know it will be worth it!
Thanks for hosting! 🙂
Hi Kathie 🙂
Great tips that I will be implementing with my three children! Thanks for linking up at Wake Me Up Wednesday!
It’s probably the first thing all moms slack off on first, because it takes so much work and time. It’s easy to get distracted, and not be aware till it gets bad enough that it wakes up back up. (ask me how I know!) 🙂
Heather, when they are very little it takes A LOT of time, work, and being consistent. I’ll tell you what though – the more time and work you put into it when they are so little, the easier things will be as they get older because you’ve laid that good foundation. Hang in there, and make a deal with your husband that you two are going to encourage each other to stay consistent, and spend time training.
This is exactly like what we have been looking for. Our kids haven’t been doing so great in the obeying department lately. They are still very little, but it seems like it has been getting worse. I’m sure my temper isn’t helping things! Will definitely be sitting down to read through this list with my husband.
Yes, first time obedience is so important! Unfortunately I have been slacking off on this lately, but I have recently renewed my efforts. More training is needed for sure. Thanks for your post.