A habit that’s on the heart and mind of so many of us is obedience. We long for our children to obey, “for this pleases the Lord.” And, to be truthful, we want our children to obey to have those “smooth and easy days” that Charlotte Mason described. Obedience is a habit that we keep plugging away at, but without seeing the immediate results of our diligence, it can be difficult to keep going.
This is not a habit that develops overnight. With many years of hard work and consistency, we can help our children develop this crucial habit.
The Habit of Prompt Obedience
The Biblical reasoning behind this habit is enough, but the results of Godly obedience also speak encouragement to my heart:
The Habit of Prompt Obedience.- It is an old story that the failures in life are not the people who lack good intentions; they are those whose physical nature has not acquired the habit of prompt and involuntary obedience. The man who can make himself do what he wills has the world before him, and it rests with parents to give their children this self-compelling power as a mere matter of habit.” School Education, page 20
Oh, that a world of opportunities would stretch before my children! I think it’s safe to say that no mother desires for her children to be “failures in life.” That is why we recognize the importance of developing the habit of obedience in the early years.
Developing the Habit
It is hard to fathom how we are supposed to consistently expect obedience every single time. Maybe we have multiple children- being sure that they obey our authority without exception is a daunting task. We must remain consistent, but we can make this easier on ourselves by giving fewer commands.
With little ones, simply holding their hand hand when we give them those few, sacred directions may help them obey. We can gently move them towards the toothbrush, car door, or exit to the park. I’ve noticed that by just looking my daughter in the eye when I give directions, she understands that I expect her to obey. When I’m in a rush and don’t take the time to show her that obedience is necessary, it doesn’t happen.
Follow through is important, but so is not backing down. When the toddler has thrown himself dramatically on the floor, refusing to comply, it is definitely easier to give him the cookie. But this is how he learns to disobey.
It is needless to continue; everybody knows the steps by which the mother’s ‘no’ comes to be disregarded, her refusal teased into consent. The child has learned to believe that he has nothing to overcome but his mother’s disinclination; if she choose to let him do this and that, there is no reason why she should not; he can make her choose to let him do the next thing forbidden, and then he may do it.” Home Education, page 115
In order to be consistent in following through and not backing down, I try to be proactive. I plan ahead for issues that might possibly prevent my children from obeying the first time, like hunger or tiredness.
By-and-by, when he is old enough, take the child into confidence; let him know what a noble thing it is to be able to make himself do, in a minute, and brightly, the very thing he would rather not do.” Home Education, page 164
An important part in the habit training process is to inspire our children. We can share an idea, like “what a noble thing it is,” a hymn, or a Bible verse. Living books like The Tale of Peter Rabbit touch upon the importance of obedience.
Now, to work a machine such as a typewriter or a bicycle, one must, before all things, have practice; one must have got into the way of working it involuntarily, without giving any thought to the matter: and to give a child this power over himself- first in response to the will of another, later, in response to his own, is to make a man of him.” School Education, pages 19-20
This is an area that I think is often overlooked (meaning, I often overlook it!) Practice is a gentle consequence. When H was about three, she had the habit of stomping down the stairs. This was problematic since her brother’s crib was on the other side of the wall! I helped her practice walking down quietly like this:
(Miss H stomps down the stairs, hoping to wake up her baby brother)
Me: Honey, please walk down the stairs quietly.
H: *STOMP *STOMP *STOMP
Me: Here, I’ll show you what I mean. (I walk down quietly.) Do you think you can do that? Let’s practice.
H: Ok! (Walks downstairs like a graceful ballerina.)
There is a law by which all rewards and punishments should be regulated: they should be the natural, or, at any rate, the relative consequences of conduct.” Home Education, page148
We don’t have to punish our children when they disobey, but they should have natural or relative consequences. Natural consequences occur without any intervention, where as relative consequences are applied.
One of the biggest things that changed my view of habit formation is this idea: Children aren’t trying to be naughty, bad, or difficult, but they lack the self-discipline and maturity to always do as they ought. Our job is to help them grow towards maturity and obedience. When we communicate with them, we need to show love and patience. Stress shuts down a child’s ability to learn. I’m working on my own habits of patience and gentleness through lots of prayer and practice so that I can gently guide my children towards obedience.
You can find more resources on the habit of obedience in the My Little Robins shop.