As a speaker, I often find myself listening to the concerns of parents. After putting down my mic and coming off the stage, mommas (and sometimes daddies) will come to chat about what is happening in their homes, good and bad. (I love these conversations.)
Nearly every time, someone will say, “Oh my child will not ______ (nap, eat well, stay in bed, play outside, etc).”
And I find myself talking again about the importance of parenting. Allowing our children to choose whether or not to sleep or eat or respect our requests puts them in a position that is too big for small children to manage. Your wisdom and guidance are crucial in the life of your child, even when they push back.
So how can we get our children to obey the directions we give them?
Your children were given to you for a purpose. Your personality and passions are exactly what they need. So, if you feel it is important for them (or for you) that they eat well or read often or play outside each day, do not second guess your gut. Provided that the issue at hand is good for your child, comes out of loving motives, and is beneficial for your family, you must trust that direction.
It is important for your child to know that someone who loves them is in charge. You are the parent. BE the parent. Children who are raised with clear expectations tend to rise up to meet those expectations and will often surpass them! You are their caregiver, their disciplinarian, their playmate, their parent. Embracing this role keeps peace in your home and helps your children to know who is in charge at all times. Helping your children to submit to authority can also strengthen their spiritual growth as it helps them to understand our relationship to God.
If you feel that napping is important, stick to that. In our home, our kids took naps daily until they were in school full time. We had kids who slept and kids who did not. But I knew that a daily rest time was best for them and best for me. So I held them to that consistently. Your calm and consistent approach will help end power struggles about sleep, food, behavior. Your children will learn that arguing with mom or dad does not further their cause. Imagine how helpful this will be when they are teens!
Offer age-appropriate choices. Yes, as parents, we must remain in charge. But part of raising our children is helping them learn to grow into the roles we now have. We can foster an ability to choose by giving our children choices at age-appropriate levels as they grow up. Letting them choose from a selection of clothing in the morning gives them a feeling of autonomy and helps you to see their personality developing. Offering apples or pears at lunch or broccoli or brussels sprouts at dinner helps them feel like they have a say in their meals while teaching them to eat healthy foods. Teaching them to choose well can help them to feel confident as they process through choices far weightier than food or clothes.
Though we may find ourselves struggling with kids who want to choose their own way, we must embrace our role as parent and offer consistency in discipline. We must foster their need to choose while saving the big decisions to be made by the adults who love them.
We may ask ourselves again and again, “How can I get my children to listen and obey?” But we will be living the answer in small, daily ways. And in improving our children’s understanding of obeying and discerning, we will be paving the way for the important spiritual decisions that they will make as they grow.
Rev. Dr. Rob Toornstra
Rev. Deb Koster