One principle I’ve found extremely valuable in Elizabeth Krueger’s Raising Godly Tomatoes is the idea of “outlasting” your child when you’re training in obedience. Krueger describes it this way (emphasis mine):
“Each time you confront your child, you must win. If you don’t – if you distract or relocate, or give in, or anything else – you’ve wasted your time. Your little one doesn’t need more time. Since he already understands what you want, it’s clear he’s just refusing to comply, knowing you’ll eventually cave and not require obedience from him… Outlast him. Every time he challenges you, let him know exactly what you expect and make sure that his little world stops until he obeys.”
There’s nothing earth-shattering about this advice, and it sounds logical enough. But I realized that – while it’s basically standard procedure for how I interact with my 3 1/2 year old son – I rarely interact this way with my pre-verbal 20-month-old. Prior to reflecting on Krueger’s suggestion, my m.o. with her was to instruct her to do something… wait for her to do it… and if she didn’t – then make it happen instead. Subconsciously I was thinking, ‘well, she may not fully get what I’m saying or do this take (say – put down that object), so I’ll take it out of her hands and show her what I was telling her to do.’ To this way of thinking, Kruger’s advice (emphasis mine) is:
“Don’t physically force your child to comply with your request. Don’t yell or frighten him into obeying. Don’t threaten. Don’t get angry. Take your time. Maintain a firm ‘I’ve got all day and I will never give up’ attitude. You must eventually outlast him to the point where he makes the conscious choice to obey you.”
Hmmmm, I thought. I’ll try it. And I did — I’d only tell my daughter to do something if I truly intended for her to do it. Then I’d stand near here and wait for her to comply, exactly as Krueger describes. As I observed, it was clear that she did fully understand what I was asking… and that she was capable of complying. I resolved not do compel her to do the thing I was asking but to wait for her to do it herself – however long it may take – standing over her, repeating my command intermittently, not letting her move on to anything else. I outlasted her.
I was amazed to see the effectiveness and fruit in this strategy. For one thing, adopting this approach caused meto be more intentional and consistent with her. For another, it slowed us down and emphasized for both of us the true issue – her willingness (or lack thereof) to comply with my instruction. And finally, and most surprisingly for me, it eliminated a lot of the struggle we’d previously experienced. Whereas in the past I’d tell her to do something, perhaps repeat it, then get on with it and get her to do the thing I’d told her to do – eliciting her protest and frustration in the process – the slower and more deliberate pace eliminated the struggle. By putting the onus on her to obey me, she’d eventually do it herself (when she realized I was leaving her no other choice), normally compliantly, and then enjoy my positive response and praise for obeying.
This shift was pretty revolutionary for us, certainly for me. I realized I was working with an outdated picture and had underestimated her, thinking she was too young to be expected to comply with my direction. This was denying her the chance to learn to obey me – since she is fully capable at her age of doing so.
Thinking back, I realize how beneficial it would have been for my husband and me to employ an ‘outlasting’ strategy with my son at this age. He was a fairly compliant child as a 20-month old and we had few behavior problems at that stage… But we missed the opportunity to train him in obedience at this level while still a toddler, and then when obedience issues emerged later on, they were harder to address. I think through our prior interactions with him – not outlasting him but yielding or doing the thing for him we’d ask him to do- we’d inadvertently set him up to have a harder time receiving our direction later.