Do you seek obedience or commitment from your children?

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Parenting
File photo/Flickr
Parenting
File photo from Flickr

Very often parents come to me with a request for assistance after their child has, in their words, ‘disobeyed’ them. I know what they want from me.

Most of those who work with children are forever in search of the same holy grail. They want the consequence of all consequences— the punishment, the reward, the guilting technique that will “MAKE my child do as I say! And it’s got to be quick and easy because I’m a very busy person.” Of course, nobody ever says this outright, but I know it’s what they want. Believe me, as a middle and high school teacher for almost thirty years, there were many times I wanted this too!

However, half-way through my career, I was fortunate enough to meet an individual, Frank Alessi, who would help me discover that what I really wanted had nothing at all to do with obedience. I didn’t want kids following my demands like robots! This would result in a child learning nothing more than to blindly obey in one moment and in one place, and with one person … ME! And why would I want that? Well, maybe to make my school day a little easier, but other than that, there is no benefit. Sure, I might be able to temporarily control a child with some clever consequence but it would have no staying power, and what’s worse is they would never have an opportunity to learn WHY one particular behavior was a healthier choice than another.

In time I realized that what I was actually craving was student commitment! I truly wanted my students and my child to be committed to responsible behavior, to kindness, to cooperation, to acting independently, to thoughtfulness, to growing, etc. Would I rather have a child who does as I ask because of fear, guilt, and shame, or one who makes healthy choices because they have come to realize that it is in their best interest and that of others to do so?

Dr. Frank Alessi often asked the following thought-provoking question during his workshops, “Can you force another person to be responsible?” Can you? Of course not. Perhaps through the use of coercion or a fantastic reward you could temporarily get them to ACT in a responsible manner, but this is quite different from training another human to BE responsible, isn’t’ it?

So, I have learned that when parents ask how to get their child to obey, I must resort to telling them that they can’t. This is often met with much disappointment and, in some cases, instant disregard for me as a so-called ‘parenting expert.’ They huff. They puff. They return to their children disillusioned, feeling more hopeless and inevitably returning to doing more of the same thing that brought them to me in the first place— the knowledge that what they are presently doing is not working!

Well, I have GOOD NEWS! There are many answers to this chronic parenting dilemma. It may not be the answer you expect, but I promise if you do something differently, you will indeed get different results! And, it starts with both setting conditions and procedures to limit poor behavior choices and learning to respond rather than react when you are unhappy with a child. To learn more, check out our webpage: katemartinbestthoughts.com and click on the purposeful parent tab in the menu. Look over our workshops, gather your friends, and pick a topic to investigate together!

About the author

Kate MartinKate Martin has been a high school teacher for 27 years and retired from the Racine Unified School District in 2015. 

She taught students with special needs as well as those in general education. While working with hundreds of parents over the years, she discovered that there was a significant lack of resources and educational opportunities to help them navigate the many demands of parenting today. 

For this reason, in 2013 she founded The Purposeful Parent, offering workshops and resources for parents, teachers, and caregivers.  

Buy the Book by Kate Martin: The Best Thoughts To Think Five minutes Before Bed