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Teaching Children to Obey

Teaching Children to Obey


You and your four-year-old keep getting locked in a battle of wills, and your child always seems to win.

  • When you tell him to do something he does not want to do, he ignores you. *

  • When you tell him not to do something he wants to do, he throws a tantrum.

‘Is this only a phase?’ you wonder. ‘Should I just hope that he grows out of it?’

You can teach your child to obey. But before we discuss how, consider one possible reason for his misbehavior.


When your child was a newborn, your primary role was that of caregiver. You were at your child’s beck and call. All he had to do was whimper, and you came running, anxious to cater to his every need. Of course, such a response was proper and necessary. A newborn or infant needs a parent’s constant attention.

After many months of that treatment, however, it is only natural that a child will act as if he were the master of the house and his parents the servants who are there to do his bidding. Then, usually by two years of age, the child becomes aware of a harsh reality: His little “autocracy” has crumbled. His parents no longer follow his orders; they expect him to follow theirs. This is a rude awakening for children! Some respond by throwing tantrums. Others test their parents’ authority by refusing to obey.

At that critical time, a parent needs to assume a new role​—that of an authority figure who gives clear direction as to what is expected of the child. But what if the child ignores or rejects that direction, as depicted in the opening scenario?


Take the lead. Your child will not accept your role as a leader unless he sees you taking the lead. So, in a balanced way, you need to assert your authority. In recent decades, some so-called experts have made the word “authority” sound harsh. One even calls parental authority “unethical” and “immoral.” But the alternative​—permissiveness—​can leave children feeling confused, indulged, and entitled. It does little to prepare them for responsible adulthood.​—Bible principle: Proverbs 29:15.

Employ discipline. One dictionary defines discipline as “training which produces obedience or self-control, often in the form of rules and punishments if these are broken.” Of course, discipline should never be unreasonable or abusive. On the other hand, it should not be vague or inconsequential, leaving the child with no incentive to change.​—Bible principle: Proverbs 23:13.

Be clear. Some parents merely ask for their child’s obedience. (“I would like you to clean up your room​—OK?”) Perhaps they feel that this shows good manners. That tactic, however, can put the parent in a submissive role and leave the child free to weigh the pros and cons of the request and then decide whether to comply. Rather than abdicate your authority, give clear direction in the form of statements.​—Bible principle: 1 Corinthians 14:9.

Be decisive. If you say no, stick to that, and present a united front with your spouse. If you have decided on a consequence for disobedience, follow through. Do not get embroiled in negotiations or endlessly discuss why you made a decision. It will be much easier for your child​—and for you—​if you just “let your ‘Yes’ mean yes and your ‘No,’ no.”​—James 5:12.

Be loving. The family is neither a democracy nor a dictatorship. Rather, it is a God-given arrangement in which children can be lovingly guided toward responsible adulthood. As part of that process, discipline will teach your child to obey and help him feel secure in your love.

^ par. 5 Although we refer to the child as a male, the principles discussed in this article apply to girls as well.