Updated: Apr 14
Find out why first-time obedience is actually a better, kinder discipline approach. Then, learn how to train your child to have first-time obedience with a Training Session.
Training your children to obey has gotten a bad rap in the 21st century. Even Christian parents are often uncomfortable with the word obedience. And the concept of first-time obedience has really been demonized.
But as Christians, we need to follow the ways of God when raising our children, not the world. It’s clear in the Bible that God commands children to obey their parents. And by definition, true obedience is first-time obedience.
"Children, obey your parents in everything, for this pleases the Lord.” — Colossians 3:20
"Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right.” — Ephesians 6:1
"My son, obey your father's commands, and don't neglect your mother's instruction.” — Proverbs 6:20
The Word of God should be reason enough to train our children to obey. But if it’s not, here are 4 more reasons why training our children to obey the first time is actually a much kinder, better approach.
First, there’s just the issue of safety. If your children are used to getting 3 or 4 warnings before they obey, what’s going to happen if they’re in immediate danger? They’re not going to respond instantly to you in a crisis if they’re not in the habit of obeying you under usual circumstances.
I witnessed the need for first-time obedience once with a friend. I had gone to the mall with a friend and her daughter. The daughter, by the way, did not have first-time obedience.
As we headed back for the car, my friend told her daughter to stop. But as usual, her daughter ignored her. By not obeying, that little girl was nearly hit by a car.
#2: Lack of First-Time Obedience Creates a Stressful Home Environment
The second reason to have first-time Obedience is that, without it, your home life can be very stressful and unhappy. How? By not training your children to obey the first-time, you have to constantly harp on them to get them to obey. And the more you have to nag them and repeat your instructions, the madder you become.
As for your children, they’ll soon learn to tune you out. They’ll learn from experience that you never actually do anything about their disobedience until they’ve been warned several times. So, they just wait until they see you’ve reached your boiling point. Then, when you become really angry, they obey just in the nick of time to escape any punishment. So, in order to get your kids to obey, you have to constantly nag or get mad or yell at them. What a horrible environment to live in.
Let me give you an example of a mother and son I know. Every night, this mom has to battle with her son to get him to stop playing video games, and go to bed. But her son knows from experience that he can continue to play for at least 30 more minutes without getting into any real trouble. So, he just ignores her until he sees that she is really mad and is actually getting ready to do something to him. He knows just how far he can push his mother before she’ll actually do anything.
The mom is convinced that the only way she can get her son to obey is to yell and scream at him. But it’s not the yelling and screaming that’s getting him to obey. Her outrage is just signifying that she has reached her limit, and she’s actually getting ready to do something unpleasant to him. It’s the forthcoming consequence that’s getting him to obey. It would be far kinder and better for both mother and child to calmly take action after the first command.
#3: First-Time Obedience Develops Self-Control
My favorite reason to have first-time obedience is that it helps children develop their self-control. Basically, self-control means doing the right thing whether you feel like it or not. It is the #1, most important virtue you want your children to have because you can’t have other virtues unless you first have self-control. For instance, you can’t always be kind, or unselfish, or full of integrity unless you first have the self-control to exhibit those traits.
But self-control does not come naturally to children. It must be developed. Like any talent, skill, or quality, it is developed through practice and repetition. The more you practice, the better you get. First-time obedience requires children to repeatedly practice self-control. Every time your children have to obey the first time when they don’t want to, it develops their self-control.
#4: First-Time Obedience Is a Consistent Rule
Finally, first-time obedience is a predictable, consistent rule. When you give multiple warnings, your discipline is random. Kids don’t know what to expect. Sometimes they can get away with things, and sometimes they can’t. That’s not fair.
Children do better when there’s routine, structure, and predictability. First-time obedience is a predictable, consistent rule that children can count on.
How to Train Your Child to Have First-Time Obedience
So that’s why you need first time obedience. Now let’s talk about how to get first time obedience. The answer is—you train them! You train your children to respond to you immediately as soon as you give an instruction. They don’t ignore you, and they don’t defy you. They simply obey without delay—AND with a good attitude.
A great way to train your children is with a Training Session. A Training Session is just a time when you instruct, demonstrate, and have your kids practice the correct behavior over and over.
You also clearly let them know they will receive a consequence for not following the rules. And then you have to constantly REMIND your kids of the correct behavior. Think about how many times you had to remind your kids to say please and thank you. It’s the same principle.
Schedule Training Sessions at a neutral time—not when there’s a problem. Plan it for when you have plenty of time and everyone involved is calm and in a good mood.
So, if you were training your kids to have first-time obedience, here’s what you might do. Have your kids sit down and let them know that from now on, when you tell them to do something, they must obey the first time AND with a respectful attitude. Go over the scriptures about how children must obey and respect their parents.
Have them memorize the following two scriptures:
Children, obey your parents in everything, for this pleases the Lord.” — Colossians 3:20
“Honor your father and your mother, …” Exodus 20:12
Also teach them the verse in James 4:17 that says: “Remember, it is sin to know what you ought to do, and then not do it.”
From there, train them that when you give an instruction, they need to do these 4 things
STOP what they’re doing.
LOOK you in the eye.
RESPOND “Yes ma’am or Yes sir” with a good attitude.
DO what you told them to do.
If you don’t like the terms “Yes ma’am or yes sir”, you can train your child to respond with whatever wording you want. It might be, “Yes, Mom or Dad” or, “Okay, I’ll do it now.” Or, “All right—I will.” Just be consistent with the wording.
The reason you want them to look you in the eye and respond is so that first, you know that they’ve heard you. Second, it shows respect.
Disobedience Will Result in a Consequence
Let them know that from now on you’re only going to tell them once, and if they don’t obey immediately, they will get an immediate consequence.
Now that doesn’t mean to get up and beat them. That’s not what I’m talking about. I’m talking about giving a consequence that is appropriate for that situation. For instance, if they’re throwing a ball in the house, take away their ball. If they’re not playing nicely, make them play in separate rooms. The point is, you get up and take action to make sure your instructions are followed.
Ask questions along the way like, “What are you supposed to do when I tell you to do something? What’s going to happen to you if you don’t?”
Practice First-Time Obedience
Then, practice first-time obedience. Have your kids pretend they’re doing something, then give a command. Have your kids practice:
Stopping what they’re doing.
Looking you in the eye.
Responding “Yes ma’am or sir” with a good attitude.
Doing what they were told.
Practice different scenarios. For instance, role play things like:
Go put your shoes in the closet.
Go put your backpack in your room.
Fill up the dog’s bowl with water.
Be sure to make the Training Sessions fun. Make up situations where your kids have to move a lot and make a lot of noise. Then, when you tell them to stop, they have to obey instantly.
Have them jump up and down and scream, and then tell them to stop jumping up and down and screaming.
Have then run outside and then call for them to come back inside.
Have them pretend to be playing and then call them to the dinner table.
Each time, they need to stop, look, respond, and obey. For younger kids, do silly things, like:
Stop that awful noise!
Stop running through the kitchen!
Take that underwear off your head!
Be sure to give plenty of praise when they immediately obey. But also, be sure to give an immediate consequence when they don’t obey. The key to first-time obedience is getting up and giving a consequence the first time they disobey.
However, do be aware of your children’s situation. If they’re in the middle of an activity, you might wait until they’ve finished. Or, you might want to give them a 5-minute warning to wrap things up. However, being in the middle of an activity is no excuse to ignore your instructions. Train your children that if they have a legitimate excuse, they could respectfully ask for a delay until they finish their activity.
Be Diligent the First Week of Training
In the beginning, be especially diligent. For an entire week, devote yourself to train your children to first-time obedience. That means reminding them daily of the rules of first-time obedience. It also means that every single time you give an instruction, you follow through to make sure that your directions are fully carried out.
But remember, you’re in the training process. Your kids probably aren’t going to consistently obey right away. Because training involves lots of practice and lots of reminders.
Ephesians 6:4 says, “Parents, do not treat your children in such a way as to make them angry. Instead, raise them with Christian discipline and instruction.”
Be diligent in your training, but give them room to make some mistakes. Good habits take a while to develop, and bad habits take a while to break. That goes for parents too. We often are just in the habit of giving multiple warnings.
For the first few days, when you give an instruction, if they don’t obey immediately, give them a gentle reminder. Say, “Remember, you need to obey the first time.” If they don’t obey immediately after your gentle reminder, then they need an immediate consequence. It won't take long before they realize that they must obey the first time.
True Obedience Requires a Good Attitude
True obedience also requires a good attitude. Not only should your children obey immediately, they need to obey politely and respectfully. Remember, the whole point of training is to train up your children for how you expect them to behave. Do you want your children to have a bad attitude with their teacher? With their boss? Then don’t allow bad habits to form with you. Insist that your children respond to you politely and respectfully.
Give Instructions with Authority
One final note: Be sure to give instructions with authority. Don’t wish or ask that your children do something—tell them. For instance, don’t say, “Billy, I wish you wouldn’t dump out your toys.” Or, “Billy, would you please not dump out your toys?”
While wishing or asking may seem polite, it only confuses children because it sounds as if they have a choice. Instead, just say, "Do not dump your toys out." It doesn't mean you have to be unpleasant or disagreeable. Giving instructions with authority simply means you tell them exactly what you want them to do. This leaves no room for confusion.
By diligently training your children to obey the first time, it won’t take long before it becomes a habit.
For more about raising your children with Christian discipline and instruction, get Parenting with Focus by Katie Ely.
Want to make new friends and connect with other Christian parents? Host a small group parenting class. It’s easy with The Parenting with Focus Video Course. Just watch the video and discuss the group discussion questions. Easy—and fun!