willful disobedience

10 Ways to Separate Ignorance From Willful Disobedience

Author Steve Farrar wrote about the time he and his sons visited a conference center. Just outside the main entrance was a clear sign: “Stay Off the Embankment.” As Steve was talking to the conference director, he turned around and saw his sons running up and down the forbidden hill, playing and joking like the sign didn’t even exist. Immediately, Steve started to yell, to discipline his sons. He was incredulous that his children totally ignored this warning and pointed to the sign repeatedly. Then, through their tears, his sons asked what an embankment is.

Dads, how many times do we unnecessarily discipline our children for what they can’t understand? And how many times do we crush their spirits? A better approach when our children seem to disobey is to get down to their eye level and ask if they know what they’re doing is wrong. If they do, then discipline appropriately. But occasionally, they may not, and you’ll have saved your little ones from a bitter experience. Here are the 10 ways to separate ignorance from willful disobedience.

1. Stay calm.

Knee-jerk reactions almost always lead us in the wrong direction. We react before we think. Unless your child is in danger, a parent should slow things down. Stay calm and carefully consider what is happening.

Knee-jerk reactions almost always lead us in the wrong direction.

2. Observe them.

It sounds like a science experiment, but in a lot of ways, that’s exactly what parenting is. Observation is critical for scientific success and the same applies to disciplinary success. Watch your children go about their everyday activities. Learn their habits and nuances. Know them as well as they know themselves. Having this knowledge will help you determine much easier when they are willfully disobeying you.

3. Learn the child’s perspective.

Think as your child would think. What might seem like a blatant act of rebellion to a parent might be something completely different to the child. Consider your child’s point of view.

4. Ask the right questions.

Kids are smart. If they are in trouble and you give them a way out, they will find it. If you ask your son if he meant to play baseball before finishing your homework, the answer will always be no. You have to phrase your questions the right way: “Son, what is our rule about playing before homework?” This way he has no option other than to convict himself. If your child wasn’t aware there was a rule, then you’ll discover that as well.

5. Open your ears.

Many times, we are too busy admonishing a child for an indiscretion that we don’t hear the child’s explanation. Always listen to what your child is trying to tell you. Don’t let the heat of the moment plug your ears from hearing vital information. Let your kids talk. They will either dig the hole deeper or give a reasonable account for themselves.

6. Be consistent.

There are times we are guilty of setting our children up to fail. We give mixed signals when we aren’t consistent. One night, you say, “No candy before dinner.” The next night, you give your daughter a candy bar as a treat before supper. That certainly sends her mixed signals. Set clear rules to follow and stick to them.

7. Repeat the rules.

Children tend to easily forget things they never wanted to remember in the first place. Just because you have given them a rule once doesn’t mean they’ll remember it a month from now. When they break that rule, they truly may have forgotten it. Repetition is the key. Standard household rules should be repeated often so that ignorance is no longer an option.

8. Get on the same page.

Are you on the same page with your spouse or children’s mother about the rules? Most of the time, both Mom and Dad are not with their kids at the same time. In divorced couples, this is obviously the case. Mom has one set of rules. Dad has another. The child is left completely confused. Come together and agree on common rules that are to be followed and kept at all times. It will make life much simpler for everyone.

9. Make exceptions.

There will always be exceptions to the rule. Your son has a bedtime of 8:30. You choose to allow him to stay up until 9 so he can watch a special program. We should be flexible enough to realize that there are moments in which we should relax the rules. However, when those times arise, be sure to make it clear that it is indeed an exception. If your kids don’t understand what the word exception means, explain it!

10. Trust the process (and your kids).

You are raising your children and doing the best job you can. Chances are, you’re doing a fantastic job. That means you’ve instilled them with character and a sense of right from wrong. Trust what you’ve done and trust them. Willful disobedience will happen, but it’ll happen much less often if you follow these guidelines.

Sound off: How do you tell the difference between willful disobedience and ignorance?

Huddle up with your kids and ask, “What do you think it means to think through the consequences of our actions before we do something?”