The Argument for First-Time Obedience

Updated: Jan 14, 2020

Have you ever heard a conversation like this?  "Tommy, don't roll you car on the wall.  Tommy, stop that.  Tommy, I'm not going to tell you again.  You better stop that by the time I count to 3.  One - two - two and a half - two and three quarters...Now Tommy, what do I have to do to get you to stop?  Please stop doing that."

Why do some parents have kids who obey the first time, while other parents have to repeat warnings over and over?  It's all in the training!

If your children know that you give multiple warnings, they have no incentive to obey right away.  Why should they?  They know you won’t do anything about it for a while. However, if your children know that they will get an immediate consequence for not obeying the first time, they soon learn to obey without delay.

Parents often have the misconception children can't obey until they’ve been warned several times.  But why would you expect children to obey the fourth time, but not the first?  If you expect your children to obey eventually, why not just train them to obey the first time?

Some would argue that first time obedience is too strict and authoritarian. They contend that parents who want immediate obedience are control freaks who want to be lord and master over their children.  Well, it depends on how you do it.  If your motivation is based on love and what’s best for your children, then first time obedience is actually a kinder approach. In this article, I'm going to give five reasons why first-time obedience is better for your kids.

(See Training the Heart to learn how to teach your children why you discipline them)

Reason #1: The most obvious reason to have first time obedience is simply for safety.  If your children are used to getting 3 or 4 warnings before they obey, what will happen if they are 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.  My friend brought her daughter as we went out shopping.  As we headed back for the car, my friend told her daughter to stop.  As usual, her daughter ignored her.  By not obeying, she was very nearly hit by a car.

Reason #2: Lack of first time obedience can also produce an unhappy home environment.  How?  By not training your children to obey the first time, you have to constantly harp on them to get them to obey.  Since your children know you won't do anything about their disobedience right away, they learn to tune you out until you reach your boiling point. Then, when you become really angry and are ready to kill them, they obey just in the nick of time.  So in order to get your children to obey, you have to reach your boiling point several times a day.  And by that time, a parent is often so angry, the consequence is much more severe than it would have been had they given it after the first command.

Take the case of Jenny.  Every night she battles with her son Ben to go to bed.  She has to tell him to go to bed over and over before he ever moves.  Ben knows from experience that his mother won't do anything until she gets mad.  So he just ignores her, continuing with his play, until he sees that she's reached her limit.  Only when she gets really mad does he move.  He knows just how far he can push his mother before she’ll actually do anything.  So Ben heads toward the bedroom just in the nick of time to escape any type of punishment.

Since Ben doesn't move until she yells and screams, Jenny concludes that it's the anger that is getting Ben to obey.  Consequently, she reasons that she has to get mad and scream at him whenever she wants him to obey.  What a terrible environment to grow up in!

But it isn't the anger that is getting Ben to obey.  The anger is just signifying that Mom has reached her limit and she getting ready to do something about his misbehavior.  It is the forthcoming disciplinary action that is getting Ben to obey.

Reason #3: Training your children to first time obedience is just fairer.  The children know exactly what to expect.  If they don't obey the first time, they know with certainty there will be a consequence.  On the other hand, for parents without first time obedience, discipline is random.  Their children never know what to expect.  Sometimes they can get away with things, yet sometimes they can't.  It usually depends on the mood of the parent.  That's not fair to the children.

Reason #4: In addition, by teaching your children to obey immediately, you're developing their self-control.  Self control is basically doing the right thing whether you feel like it or not.  Since self control is needed in most every area of life, your child needs practice developing it.  (See The #1 Virtue to Teach Your Children: Self Control.)

Of course, before you try to train first time obedience, you need to have established a loving relationship with your children.  This is key.  Your children need to know that you love them unconditionally and have their best interests at heart.

When my boys were growing up, our home was filled with love, fun, and peace. HOWEVER, my boys knew if they disobeyed, they were going to get a consequence.  Period.  It didn’t make them question my love for them, or make them cower in fear. They just knew they had better obey or there would be a definite consequence. Once the consequence was over, however, the joy, fun, and peace came instantly back.

Reason #5: Children love routine, structure, and predictability. First time obedience is a stable rule that children can count on.

Be sure to read How to Train First-time Obedience.

Learn how to get your children to clean their rooms and help around the house with Rubric Rules: A Cleaning System for Kids.A

“ Train up a child in the way he should go, 

and when he is old he will not depart from it."

Proverbs 22:6​

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