Respectful Parenting: The Key To Obedience
Hello everyone! I just published a post about the difference between rules and principles and I’m on a gentle parenting roll so I’m gonna just crack right on with this obedience vs. compliance post.
This post is partly inspired by the inhumane way I see children treated all too often, and partly from a video clip I saw of a guy whose opinion I usually respect, who was calling for parents to ‘demand obedience’ from their children. I was gobsmacked that someone so intelligent had misunderstood and misused the word ‘obedience’ so strongly and with such potential impact on those who watch his videos.
Obedience means submitting to an authority and behaving in accordance with said authority. Submitting is an act of the will and requires accepting that although the authority’s opinion or views are different, they carry more weight due to experience or qualification. A good example would be when I say to my kids to please wait at the zebra crossing and hold my hands; they obey because they know that I keep them safe and that I am not giving them arbitrary rules to follow; that when I ask or tell them to do something it is for good reason.
I will obey a police officer when they tell me to take a diversion in my car, because I submit to their authority knowing that they probably have my best interests, and those of the community’s, at heart. Obedience, therefore, cannot be ‘demanded’ as it involves a decision by the obeyer that they heed the opinion of the authority above their own views and are not simply following orders, (that is compliance).
Too often people get themselves in knots and think that the more rules and restrictions they places upon their kids, the better the kids will learn to ‘obey’, i.e., do what the parent wants. I wholeheartedly disagree with this; children are hard-wired to learn through the way they are treated and what they observe.
Respectful Parenting & Rules
If they are constantly being given rules that don’t make sense to them they will become resentful, rebel against them and/or try to regain some control of their life by controlling others or controlling something in other unhealthy ways. When a child does something out of fear of a person, under the threat of punishment, that is not obedience- that is compliance. There is no critical thought accompanying the process; they are not properly learning why they are doing something or how to apply it to different situations.
They are so distracted by avoiding punishment that there is not enough capacity to thoroughly learn as they could do in a safer and less stressful environment. This is one of the many reasons that punishment is not used in our household, and why we instead rely on discussion and natural consequences as things to help as grow.
I find it bizarre that adults get completely obsessed with controlling children. It is not something that we do in any other relationship dynamic; marriage, siblings or friends. Can you imagine what society would look like if we gave our husbands and wives punishments when they displeased us? Or if we controlled every aspect of what our sibling ate and drank, decided what they should wear and where they should go every single day? Surely this would be extremely unhealthy and miserable, yet it is the norm for how we treat children.
How to nurture a nature of healthy obedience
If you want your child to obey you:
Be someone worth obeying…
Don’t put a ton of restraints and restrictions on them; respect who they are; listen to them; encourage them and allow them the human rights that are rightfully theirs.
Model being kind and gracious to everyone unconditionally.
Model obeying good authority in a polite and respectful way. Show your children how to best protest bad authority.
Behave in every way as someone who is to be trusted and who has others’ best interests at heart, so that when you ask them to do something they know it is of value to obey.
Stop obsessing over whether or not they do every single thing you ask them, and instead be grateful that they have their own mind.
Accept that you are imperfect and that therefore it is good for you to be challenged; none of us are going to have pure motives every time we ask obedience from our kids and often we need to look at ourselves and whether what we are asking is even reasonable.
Those are the things that I have found really helpful when it comes to relating to my kids, and I hope it provides some food for thought.
I guess, at the end of the day, it comes down to two things- I want to be a loving person, and I want my kids to be better people than me. That is the only way our world is going to improve, and boy does it need improving. We can’t expect our children to be better than us if we are demanding them to follow everything we say, so we need to give them the trust and space and guidance to grow into the best versions of themselves; not the versions of themselves that we want.
If you’ve found this post about respectful parenting helpful, interesting or thought provoking, please share it! More respectful parenting tips and posts can be found here in our gentle parenting blog post collection.