I grew up in a Christian household. One of the first bible verses I memorized was Ephesians 6:1 which commands children to “obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right.” Raising compliant, obedient children appears to be the goal for many parents who take pride in the fact that their children do as they are told, not like other people’s spoiled children. Experts and parents who are thinking of different, healthier ways to parent are beginning to question the value of raising obedient children and concluding that it should not be a goal for parents. Here are some of the reasons and alternatives they offer.
What obedience looks like
Having obedient and compliant children makes parenting easier. You give an instruction and it’s executed immediately without a single complaint or sign of disagreement. It doesn’t matter what the child thinks, or how they feel. All that matters is that they do what they’ve been told immediately or face the harsh consequences. Their views and feelings are of no consequence. All that adults require from them is immediate compliance.
They don’t learn to say no
One key piece of advice parents are constantly given is ‘You’re not raising children, you’re raising adults.’ Obedient children who do as they are told without protest can easily become adults who do the same. Adults who don’t know how to say no, adults who don’t know how to express their views and feelings because of a long history of being required to suppress and ignore their thoughts and feelings in favour of doing what they’ve been told.
It may be okay with you that your child never disagrees with you or says no, but just think about what that looks like when they can’t say no to peer pressure or stand up for themselves with a future boss or boyfriend or unjust government. What does it mean to teach them that other people’s views and opinions surpass theirs and that they should just comply to avoid trouble? Your child needs to learn to say a clear, unwavering ‘no’ without fear and it starts with you. They have to have a safe place to do it from home.
Opens children up to abuse
One parent says all this teaches the child is that their feelings and views are invalid, that their voice doesn’t matter and they have to do what the adult says no matter how they feel. They learn to ignore their feelings and do what they’re told even when it makes them angry or hurt or sad. They learn that is what adults expect from them for them to be considered good and avoid trouble. So when that uncle touches them inappropriately and they feel bad and maybe even angry, they don’t say anything to anyone because they are already accustomed to being required to do things that make them feel hurt or angry or sad by adults.
I know everyone won’t agree. But allowing our kids to: -express their real feelings -disagree with us -Practice self advocacy While also: -acknowledging and validating their emotions While also: -Teaching them socially acceptable ways to behave in those moments, and giving the the language to respectfully disagree and self advocate While also: -holding firm to our developmentally appropriate expectations Will allow us to raise critical thinkers who aren’t trained to submit their will to adult authority or aggressive authority out of habit or fear. Many victims will tell you that being trained to obey/ submit was a huge factor in their silent victimization. Authority is authority and kids don’t generally discern who they should be obedient to in the way you think they should, when they’ve been trained to ignore their own body and feelings. Additionally, Most abusers are people that are close to the family or IN the family. Again knowing what the potential consequences of being “trained” to ignore your body’s cues, in the name of obedience, is not for me. Share your thoughts… #consciousparenting
Denies their humanity
Obedience ignores the fact that children are people. They are full human beings independent of their parents, with their own thoughts and feelings. They are not robots or little versions of their parents. Obedience denies children their humanity and prioritizes the parents over the child. It’s about what the parent wants, and how they want to be perceived by other adults around, not about what’s in the best interest of the child. You want to be one of those people other adults praise, “aki their children are so good, so obedient, so easy.”
It’s important to raise children who are independent people, who have a mind of their own, and able to speak up and articulate their views and feelings about things that are important to them. This helps them develop independent thinking, something that’s valuable throughout life. It teaches them to make their own decisions and not just rely on following instructions from adults.
Another problem with choosing obedience and compliance as a goal especially when undergirded by fear of punishment or consequences is it doesn’t last. Eventually, whether as a child or an adult, they will be resentful of and even rebel against authority figures. The authority figure they will be resentful of and maybe rebellious towards will include you. You don’t want that. Perhaps, the worst-case scenario would be for them to be compliant with authority figures for the rest of their lives.
Co-operation, not obedience
Co-operation is a better goal for parenting than obedience. While obedience relies on fear of punishment, cooperation is anchored on communicating with the child, explaining what you want and inviting them to work together to get it done. You don’t just issue orders but try to explain so that they understand why. You set boundaries and limits because children need these for their safety but overall focus on working together towards a common goal.
How to foster co-operation
Explain the rules in a way they can understand, allowing them to ask questions and engage further, acknowledging their views and perspective. Let them know disagreeing is okay and so is talking back as long as it’s respectful.
Give them control or options. Children can feel powerless with so many decisions out of their control. For example, you can say they can shower before or after dinner. Their choice.
Is it worth the fight? Some things are not worth the fight and are only important to you as a parent because you want to be obeyed. How serious is it that they want to wear that superhero cape everywhere? Let it go. Obviously, this doesn’t count when it comes to safety issues.
Say no to behaviour, not feelings. Communicate that feelings are normal and okay but for example, even if you’re angry you can’t smash your sister’s toys. Let’s go and snuggle there and you can tell me how you’re feeling.
Negotiate. Model negotiating and compromise with them and with other people around you and them always aiming for a win-win where you both feel heard. Let them know they can always try to negotiate with you.
Problem-solve together. If you find that you keep butting heads over the same issue, consider problem-solving together. Engaging them in the process gets their buy-in.
Be transparent with your motives. Go for honesty, for example, if you want them to wear something so that they look good when going to visit their grandparents, just communicate that. Even when it’s something motivated by fear or some illogical reasoning like, “I know you’re totally trustworthy with the knife but I get nervous when I see you holding it. Would you mind using a spoon instead?”
Acknowledge your adult prerogative softening the blow with empathy. For example, if you have to make a decision they don’t agree with, “Sometimes adults get to make decisions that kids don’t get to make and I know that can be tough.”
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