Parenting · Preaching , Teaching & Writing

Obedience Training

IMG_2881We have just completed the lesson on First Time Obedience in our parenting class (Growing Kids God’s Way) and I am so overjoyed to share this one principle that has changed the landscape of our parenting.

What is obedience training and why is it necessary? And what really does it mean to train our children to “first time obedience”?

Although we were exposed to this concept 5 years ago when we had only 1 toddler, the lightbulb moment came years later when Angela introduced me to “Moms Notes” by Joey and Carla Link. They did such a wonderful job in explaining very comprehensively how to train children in different age category to first time obedience and what to do when they do not comply.

With a heart so joyous about such a biblical parenting principal, I found other blogs that have discussed this topic on FTO. Without trying to reinvent the wheel too much, here are some of the links that I have found useful on this topic here:

Here i’d like to just quickly recap some important key points on what obedience training is all about.

What is Obedience? 

Firstly, to obey simply means to surrender, to yield, to submit and to relinquish control. All of us have a strong innate desire to self rule. Your children, will have a tendency to self legislate even without being taught! This is partly because we want to protect ourselves from being hurt, and also because our sinful nature simply resist the idea of authority!

Relational Parenting? 

Firstly, we as parents need to understand that by training our children to first time obedience, we are training them to a high, godly virtue that will reap much dividends. We should not succumb to the pressure of relational parenting as this is our goal, not our starting point.

My 4 year old has lately been asking me, “Mum, can I marry you later?”, to which he then quickly added, “How do I marry you? Do I have to win your heart?” Tongue in cheek, I would then tell him that I am already married and that he has already won my heart. However, he would pursue deeper, asking if he and I could be friends. Learning from the Ezzos, I would explain to him that we can be friends later, but for now, I am his Mum and he is my son.  This understanding is profound. I have learned that friendship with my children is not my current goal, rather it is something that we work towards to and earn when the children are older.

Obedience or Submission?

Summarising from the Ezzos, obedience, is a temporary teacher that brings a child to compliance by extrinsic means, until he is morally ready to comply with his intrinsic controls. In time, a child must exchange obedience with heart submission. And in child training, we as parents must help our children with that transition.

Training Benefits to Children?

The child who learns to yield to Mum and Dad’s authority will reap much blessing in their lives. I witness it in my home, and the homes of many others, the beauty of surrendering to the governing authority of our lives. Our children’s ability to work well with others, succeeding interpersonally at work, and growing confidence in their place in life all start as they learn to submit to the authority of their parents at home.

A child who learns to comply to his parents’ established standard of behaviour will experience an immense sense of satisfaction and have a healthy feeling of acceptance and approval. This is so true in many aspects. The parents who are inconsistent with training their children to FTO will invariably create a subjective rather than an objective standard of obedience. This is not fair for the child who will never know what the standard is for it can  vary from day to day.

Parental Resistance?

Obedience must be taught and imparted. Parents need to instil this virtue and show by example that they are under the authority of others too! The Ezzos taught that parental commitment and determined resolution must be present to carry the training through if we are to see first time obedience in our children. Very often parents are the ones that train our children to disobedience, because children will rise to whatever standard we expect of them.

A child that has too much “verbal freedom” will have problem submitting to the parents leadership and will respond with a whiny, complaining or argumentative response when called to instructions.

Obedience training starts with parents!

True Obedience?

True Obedience has these components:

  • complete
  • immediate
  • with a cheerful heart: without challenge, without complaint

The Links explain that true obedience is the child coming at the moment of your call, whether he feels like it or not, whether he wanted or not and whether it was convenient for him or not.

The danger of the 1,2,3 obedience is that you are training the child to delayed disobedience, and responding out of the fear of mum and dad “meaning business” rather than from the goodness of his heart to obey.

In child training, parents must help the child to obey by making it the required standard, and making it attractive and doable. Biblical parenting as Gary and Anne Marie Ezzo explained, is not cold, legalistic, whimsical or frustrating.

How do we begin?

1) Firstly, when we speak to our child that requires an answer or an action, expect an immediate and complete response because children will rise to the expected level of obedience.

2) Secondly, we should mean what we say and say what we mean, which means never give a command unless we intend for it to be obeyed. It is also important to remember to begin our FTO training when we actually can carry it through, otherwise our words will be meaningless and more of a nag.

3) Thirdly, we should not make our instruction always negotiable. This means not lowering the standard or compromising consistently in times of conflict. In older children the “May i appeal rule” may exist, but only after they have demonstrated 90% FTO.

It is important to remember to choose your battles well, work on one thing at a time and then be resolved to hold the line.

In our home, I have drawn up a spreadsheet to record what I notice as our short failings. This gets pinned on the family cork board and get crossed off as we win over each battle.This helps me to keep on track with how I am supposed to be shepherding the children’s hearts and not to deal with every problem that surface all at the same time. I think that would even turn the bravest mum melting away in discouragement!

Be mindful to remember what your child is capable or not of doing, lest you exasperate him. What he is incapable, don’t cease giving instruction, but allow him to follow your example as you train him in little measures. Those that you know he is capable of doing, are the ones that you hold him accountable for.

4) Make sure when you are first training them, that you make obedience doable. This means, making sure that your instruction is age appropriate. Also ensuring that you are in close vicinity and are audible enough to be heard so that your child does not have a reason to disobey you simply because they did not hear you.

5) Making obedience attractive to me also means not tempting your children to sin and providing them with a way of escape in situations too difficult for them. For instance, it would be foolish for me to say to my son, “No chocolate for the day” but then devour chocolates in front of him, or worse, put out all my easter eggs on the dining table that he passes by a 100x a day. Also my son might at times get frustrated in play and lash out tantrums at his sister simply because the situation and his emotions are too overwhelming for him. By providing a way of escape for him, I allow him to get me to mediate things when they are out of his control so that he does not get into great disobedience when it’s too late.

The Ezzos beautifully explain that when your child is able to meet a high, established standard of obedience and receives your approval, obeying you become attractive and your child will know deep within that he is loved and accepted by you. The higher the standard, the greater the confirmation and the sense of approval and the stronger the parent child relationship.

6) It is important to remember not to be characterised by being a repeating, threatening  parent. This means to us, not to give an instruction twice! ‘Moms Notes’ wrote that we are to repeat verbal reminders or warning only once; and that we are not to get into the habit of nagging, repeating, reminding.

7) We are also not to bribe our children. There is a difference between bribing and rewarding. Bribing a child to obedience will establish an improper or false motivation in them, training them to comply for the ‘prize’ rather than out of the virtue which is within them.

8) Lastly, when giving instruction, we must train them to look us in the eye. When my children were young, their eyes used to dart everywhere. We had to cup their faces in our hands to maintain their eye contact.

We must also separate their name from the instruction, and train them to respond first to the call of their name. At every stage, we must require a verbal response.

9) Train in stages. Firstly, get them to respond to the call of their name immediately first. by saying “Yes Mummy, I am coming” and looking at you in the eye when they come. In the training stage, you can complete the cycle by getting them to do it again to give them the full practice run.

Secondly you then train them to obey you completely, by coming to you fully and verbally responding with “Yes Mum, I will obey” upon the instruction you have given.

Lastly, you want to work on them coming to you with a happy attitude, without complaining, arguing or challenging. (For a full explanation on this, refer to ‘Moms Notes: Understanding First Time Obedience).

Below is another fresh reminder on the importance of obedience training in your home:

Thank you for reading!


9 thoughts on “Obedience Training

  1. Hi Ing, would you be able to help me understand what FTO looked like early on with any of your kids? E.g. what happens the first time they don’t willfully respond to their name and come to you. Do we set the standard by showing our disapproval through our tone and physical stance? I guess I’m a little unclear on how to show my child there needs to be a high standard of obedience (and not nag or repeat my command as a threat)


    1. Hi Joe. Thank you for your question. You may start training your children to FTO starting from 18 months on…even though you may not see the result until months or even years later. What you are doing in the early stages is in instilling the values and laying the foundation. Your goal is to establish the right to rule in their lives, and your instruction is directive and restrictive. The moral reason why will only come once your child reaches age 3, that’s when you need to start incorporating the values behind the virtues of your instruction. I strongly suggest that you read/join the Toddlerwise class / series which talks about how obedience looks in the early years. But please bear in mind that it is not a mindless obedience and submission that we want our children to have, but a heart truly yielded to your authority at the end. It is very beautiful indeed and parents play an important role in exchanging obedience for submission in the latter years. For a young child, obedience may look like this: a crawling baby coming to daddy when called, stopping at the word ‘No’, showing self control during high chair time – and these all takes training and they all take TIME. In the process when we truly understand the heart of obedience training, both parents and children will be changed.


  2. Well written Ing. What a great lesson for all to learn. I wish there is such thing as FTO in the body of Christ. Can you throw some light on it?:)


    1. Thank you:) I’m always reminded of the story of young Samuel responding to God at the call of his name. God calls him”Samuel”…”Samuel”…”Samuel”…,and he responded. In life we ought to develop such sensitivity to His call of our name which allows us to then respod to the call of God within the Body, the leaders, the structure He places upon our lives 🙂


  3. Hi. Thankyou for your post. I think I understand what FTO is, but what do I do when my toddler doesn’t say yes mommy or come to me when I call her. What is an appropriate consequence for disobedience?


    1. Hi John, thanks for your question. There is a simple and direct answer to your question but i’d be doing you a disservice by giving you a formulaic answer. There is a lot that goes on behind obedience and discipline training. You’ve gotta make sure the fundamentals are covered (see my post on Correction for a starter). The Growing Kids God’s Way series plus the Moms Notes presentation would give you the most comprehensive understanding of how to train your children to FTO. Check out the Link’s book on “Why Can’t I get my kids to behave” for a crash course on obedience training. But you basically train them in stages and make it the required standard in your home. When you first start out you may want to train when your child is most refreshed (say after a nap) and have a few fun trial runs, until your child understands that this is what is expected of them. Start by calling your child’s name (separate the name from the instruction) and have him/her come to you (depending on the age, sometimes with under 2 you may just train them to come to you first without the verbal response) and lavish him/her with praises and kisses when your child obeys you. Make it the norm in your family to have your child obey you the first time. Remember you are training for the heart and again depending on the age, how to deal with non compliance would require another lengthy post!


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