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“The rod and rebuke give wisdom, but a child left to himself brings shame to his mother.” Proverbs 29:15

Young children inescapably learn.

Their habits begin to be established even while in the womb. It is never a question of habits or no habits, it’s a question of how are you building their habits and what kind of habits are you establishing?

A recent conversation with a friend of mine reminded me again of the importance of teaching young children the habit of obeying promptly and without question. My friend related the conversation he had recently had with a former college teacher and missionary friend and his two grown sons. He had asked them about growing up overseas and the subject had turned to the “life and death” importance of teaching young children to obey promptly and without discussion.

It seems that the two, then very young sons, were on a patio-deck out the back door of their house one day. Their mom had walked out the back door in time to see what the children did not see: a large, long, poisonous snake hanging from a tree next to the deck. This particular snake was one that could strike many feet away. The children were standing near the snake with their backs to it. The mom very quietly but firmly told the children, “get on your hands and knees and crawl to me slowly. NOW!” Thankfully the boys did and are alive to talk about today.

We know what our children do not and their lives may depend upon learning to obey: quickly, the first time, and without question.

It is a tragedy in the making to teach young children how to disobey. Teaching them to disobey you say? Yes. Here’s how it’s done.

A child in a walker goes toward the electric space heater sitting in the floor in the front room. Mom says “no!” The child stops and then, seeing no movement in mom, moves closer. Mom speaks again, no! The drama is repeated and mom does nothing. Finally, with the child inches away, mom dashes toward the heater scoops up the child and with relief in her voice “rebukes’ the child.

Now, fast-forward two years. You’re in a store shopping for Christmas gifts. The store is designed to entice your child into selfish fits of desire. You’re tired, in a hurry, with an almost three year old in tow. The child sees the (fill in the blank), wants it, you say no, and your child has a fit. A rip-roaring, high decibel, crowd attracting fit! You shrivel in embarrassment. Without hesitation you reach to the shelf, pick up the item, and give it to your child. You then roll your buggy, as quickly as you can, to the checkout. The same kind of exchange is repeated at home but without the public embarrassment.

Fast-forward three more years. You’re picking your child up from kindergarten. As you walk out the door to your car your child sees a friend just across parking lot. The child immediately dashes into the parking lot, as fast as their little legs will carry them, without looking both ways. You see what they don’t, a car suddenly rounding the corner of the build going faster then it should and you shout, calling your child’s name, STOP! Do you want a debate or obedience? Do you want your child to ignore you or obey?

Nationally known Pastor, John Piper, has some very helpful observations to rescue parents from what he calls “the folly of laissez-faire parenting.” I’ll offer one now and provide more of his excellent observations in my next article.

Piper rightly observes that “requiring obedience should be practiced at home on inconsequential things so that it is possible in public on consequential things.” He goes on to observe, “One explanation why children are out of control in public is that they have not been taught to obey at home. One reason for this is that many things at home don’t seem worth the battle. It’s easier to do it ourselves than to take the time and effort to deal with a child’s unwillingness to do it. But this simply trains children that obedience anywhere is optional. Consistency in requiring obedience at home will help your children be enjoyable in public.”

Parents, the opportunity you have to lay good character foundations and habits in the life of your child is immense. Do miss it. Be self conscious about it. Prepare them for learning the habit of self-control when they are no longer under your care. Prepare them by teaching them the life and death issue of learning joyful submission to your authority.