“Why do I have to obey you?” This question comes up millions of times every day—from people of all ages. Children ask it of parents. Parents ask it of employers. And we all ask it of God. This lesson to obey—or not—goes back to the Garden, showing that it’s been a tough one for humanity to learn all these years. It seems obedience should be discovered and put into practice from infancy. However, it’s not always that easy.
Remember the old hymn Trust and Obey you may have learned at church when you were a child? The words of the chorus are, “Trust and obey, for there’s no other way to be happy in Jesus, but to trust and obey.” Children learn these lyrics easily, but teaching them the concept of obedience is another matter entirely! Just think about the number of times you end up repeating instructions to your children, wondering if they will ever obey the first time. It can be an exasperating occurrence, tiring us to the core!
As parents, it can be tempting to let our children get away with disobedience. The main reason—it’s wearisome to continually remind them to follow given directions. But the Bible clearly states: “Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right” (Eph. 6:1). If children can learn early in life to trust and obey their parents, they are more likely to submit to God’s authority as teens, and later as adults.
When teaching kids to obey, your instructions should be:
- Pointed—As you begin teaching your toddlers to obey, use quick and direct words of instruction. For example, when they are running from the safety of your front yard toward the busy street you tell them firmly, “Stop!” During this season of their lives, you are normally standing close by to retrieve and redirect them to a safe area as needed.
- Specific—Once your children are older preschoolers or younger elementary aged, your instructions can be more detailed. For instance, you still don’t want them to play in the street, but you can clarify the boundaries: “Do not go past the grassy area of our front yard.” Children actually feel more secure when they know the safety zones. It’s when the boundaries are unknown that they become more out of control, looking for any way possible to test limits of protection and authority.
- Protective—As children reach mid-grade school ages, you will naturally begin to enlarge their boundaries. However, always keep a watchful eye. You want to be assured that your children are using self-discipline to stay within the guidelines you’ve laid out for them. Children this age are still very trusting of seemingly friendly adults, although we know there are people in our world whose intentions are not for good.
Just as we, as adults, are corrected by God when we stray too far from His course—children should have consequences for disobedience as well. It’s helpful to decide ahead of time what type of penalties they will face if they choose to defy your instructions. If you fail to enforce the rules, your children will get the impression that you don’t really mean what you say. As the motto goes, “Say what you mean, and mean what you say.” We see this approach modeled by God throughout Scripture where He holds fast to His expectations that people follow His commands. This principle is important to embrace as you’re laying biblical foundations for life with your children.
God designed the parent-child relationship as a model for how He, our heavenly Father, relates to us. The Bible says the effort someone puts into disciplining their children correctly is one indication of that parent’s love for them (Prov. 13:24). So don’t be afraid to teach your children the importance of obedience to you. Not only does it prepare them to obey the Lord, it also shows them how much they are dearly loved by their parents!
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