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 marked “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 and 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 was.

Dads, how many times do we unnecessarily discipline our children for what they can’t understand? And how many times do we crush their spirit? A better approach is when our children seem to disobey, 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 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. Click To Tweet

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. You ask your child “Son, did you mean to play baseball before finishing your homework?” The answer will always be “No, Dad.” You have to phrase your questions in 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 will discover that as well.

5. Open Your Ears

Many times we are too busy admonishing our child for an indiscretion that we don’t hear the 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 them 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 when it comes to 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 9:00 so that he can view a special program. We should be flexible enough to realize that there are moments in which the rules should be relaxed. However, when those times arise, be sure to make it clear that it is indeed an exception. If they do not understand what the word exception means, explain it!

10. Trust the Process and Them

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 much less often if you follow these guidelines.

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?”


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