Children, Obey Your Parents

By Elisabeth Elliot



A Question from a young mother: How can I train my twenty-month-old to come to me? How many times do I have to say “Come here” before I go and grab him?

The very first time you tell the child to do or not to do something (come here, don’t touch, sit still)

(1) make sure you have the child’s attention;

(2) look him straight in the eye (let him know he has “your” attention);

(3) speak in an even, normal tone, address him “by name”, give the command;

(4) give him a few seconds to let the message sink in;

(5) speak his name again, and ask, “What did I say?” Since training should begin long before
he is talking, he will not be able to verbalize the answer, but he should obey. Children are always ahead of their parents’ idea of what they can understand.

(6) Tell him once more: “Mama said Come, Andrew.” If he does not obey, spank him. After the first time or two of practice, spank after you’ve spoken once.

To make a habit of repeating commands is to train the child to believe you never mean what you say the first time. If the first lesson in obedience is carried out as above, the child learns quickly that you mean exactly what you say. I know it works – my parents taught us this way, and I watched them train
my younger sisters and brothers. I found that it worked with Valerie.

If you run after the child and physically force him to do what you say (e.g. grab him when he doesn’t come, take something away when he touches it), you are training him not to pay attention to your words. He knows he can get away from anything until forcibly restrained.

Now about spanking. The book of Proverbs speaks of the “rod of discipline,” (22: 15) and says, “The rod and reproof give wisdom, but a child left to himself brings shame to his mother” (29: 15). “He who spares the rod hates his son, but he who loves him is diligent to discipline him” (13: 24). My mother used a
very thin little switch from a bush in the backyard. We knew there was one in every room, readily available to administer a couple of stings to our legs if we disobeyed. Valerie keeps a thin wooden paint stirrer handy in the house, and also in her purse. One or two firm “paddles” on a small outstretched hand are language that an under-two child understands very clearly.

Don’t imagine that following this advice will mean that your child will be punished twenty times a day. The wonderful thing about these simple rules is that punishment needs to be used very seldom, if you start soon enough. If you begin at the beginning to show the child you are serious about obedience, you will not need to undo the months or years of raising your voice, repeating commands again and again, rushing after him. You will have control. The child will be learning to trust the word of authority (which will make it much easier later for him to believe that God means what He says) and your life together will be much more peaceful and happy.

Suppose your child is already twenty months or three years old and you have not taught him to obey? Then you must both pay a price, but I believe it can be done. Set aside a whole morning to start over. Talk to him, tell him how much you love him, tell him, “This morning we are going to learn the most important lesson you will ever have to learn.” Let him see that you are in earnest. Start practicing the beginner’s rules.

A word of caution: spanking, in my opinion, should be for deliberate disobedience only. When a child spills her milk or stuffs peanuts up his nose or pours talcum powder all over the carpet, he is not being disobedient. He is only acting his age.

You have not forbidden him to stuff peanuts up his nose. If you have, and he does it anyways , spank him. If, in defiance, he dumps his milk on the floor, spank him. But childish mistakes and messes must be pointed out, and by all means he should be made to rectify them or clean them up as best he can. Think of punishments that will fit the “crimes,” but reserve the stick or the switch for deliberate disobedience. He will soon learn that when he defies you, a spanking follows as sure as the dawn fol-
lows the night – even if you are in the church or the supermarket. Take him out to the car and spank him. Explain the whole system to him again (after the spanking), if necessary. Put your arms around him, assure him of your love, and change the subject.

Elisabeth Elliot