Building up believers and the New Testament church

Training Children

Commanding, the Way of Teaching

"For I have known him [Abraham], in order that he may command his children and his household after him" (Genesis 18:19). The word "command" may have a very heavy and seemingly negative meaning to us. This is likely due to the influences of our present age, in which authority is also ridiculed. But to command simply means to give some instruction that is to be fulfilled by an act of obedience. It should be specific enough that both child and parent will know when it is completed. This will depend on the maturity of the child and on how well the training has been done up to that point.

For example, we may say, "Go and clean up your room." At a certain age with proper training, that may be sufficient. But in the beginning, the direction will need to be more specific. "Go into your room and pick up your toys, and place them on the shelf where I showed you yesterday. Then call me to check." That command is specific. We have given instruction beforehand, we are telling the child exactly what to do, and then we are following up to make sure the task is accomplished according to our standards. If the command is not carried out, appropriate action must be taken, depending again on many things.

The important thing to note is that obedience is being taught by commanding. Orderliness and responsibility are also being taught, but these are secondary. Sometimes it helps to see how not to teach. A common mistake that is made is to sit the child down and lecture on the importance of keeping his room clean and neat, with a promise extracted from the child to do so. Several days later, we walk into the room and find it a mess. "I thought I told you to keep your room neat! " we shout. "If you don't keep your room clean I'm going to restrict you for a week," and off we go in a huff, leaving a bewildered child. This kind of action accomplishes nothing. It is not commanding.

Note that commanding is not begging, bribing, coercing, hoping, pleading, shouting, pulling, or anyone of a thousand other tactics that parents often resort to, to try to control their children. It is simply giving clear precise direction in a calm manner with the expectation that it will be promptly obeyed with a good attitude without question. The child's attention should be gained completely before the command is given, and with eye contact gained, no excuse will be possible such as "I didn't hear you."

Another mistake is to give the instruction, but never set a place of accountability. We tell the child to go clean up his room, but we never check the results. The child does go and clean up the room according to his standards. But until the standard has been defined in his mind through obedience, it will be faulty. Several days later, the above scene is repeated, and again the child is lost. He did go into the room and clean it--he thought. This breeds resentment, and will only lead to more problems.