by Greg Krehbiel on 25 August 2004
A friend told me a story about a westerner who was visiting a friend in India. While they were chatting on the patio, the Indian man’s son was playing in the yard. Suddenly the Indian man turned to his son and said, “Son, be perfectly still.” To the westerner’s amazement, the child stopped. Then the father said, “Drop down to the ground.” The boy dropped. “Crawl towards me.” The boy crawled. “Now get up and run to me.” The boy ran.
When he reached his father, the Indian man pointed to the poisonous snake in the tree near where the son was playing.
Another story. When I was in 11th grade we had a substitute teacher for physics. When the teacher got to my name as he was calling the roll, he said, “Krehbiel … Krehbiel…. Where have I heard that before?” He paused for a moment, then he said, “While I was doing research for a book on the first World War I read about a platoon of American soldiers in the Argonne forest. The commander yelled ‘hit the dirt.’ A soldier named Krehbiel was the only one who did. All the rest of them were mowed down by machine gun fire.”
Instant, unquestioned obedience can save your child’s life! Of course most of the things you tell your children don’t involve poisonous snakes or live fire in combat. But many things will involve traffic safety, or poison, or drugs, or other serious dangers. You don’t have time to say, “I’m going to count to five ….”
By the way, don’t ever do that. The old “I’m going to count to five” thing trains your children to disobey you, because first you say “Do X,” and they don’t do it, and then you say, “I’m going to count to five.” This tells the child that he doesn’t need to listen until you get to five. By that time the snake has bitten him three times, the .50 caliber round has turned his head to goo, the bus has squashed him like a bug and he’s swallowed a mouthful of turpentine.
The same is true with other methods, e.g., raising your voice when you really mean it, or threatening, or whatever you do to distinguish “regular” commands from the serious ones. The whole enterprise is wrong-headed. You have to expect and require quick, complete and cheerful obedience — the first time — to everything you say. If the child doesn’t respond immediately, there have to be consequences.
This is not about being a hard-ass or a disciplinarian. Learning obedience is in the best interest of your child. If you train your child to think “why?,” or “do I really have to?,” then he’s going to be one of those other soldiers who never came home from the Argonne forest.
As your child gets older you will have to allow for more interaction. A five-year old has to do precisely what you say the instant you say it, but a 17-year old can make his own judgments on many things. Your child will make a transition from infancy to adulthood, which is the same as saying a transition from a time when you make all his decisions to a time when he makes all his decisions. A firm foundation of “quick, cheerful and complete obedience — first” will make everything easier for both of you.
When the child is 12 and you say, “pick up your socks,” the child may reasonably reply, “may I finish my bowl of cereal first?” And when the child is 15 and you say, “go do your homework,” the child may reasonably say, “there’s no school tomorrow. Can I finish this game and do it Saturday night?” And … I hate this, but it’s true … there may be times when you let your teenage son decide how to cut his hair.
The point is not to create automotons, but to wean your child of the natural indolence, laziness, selfishness and “I know better” attitude kids develop when they don’t have effective fathers. Training in obedience will serve your child better than any ivy league degree, any expensive Christmas present or any amount of money you can put in his bank account.
-- 2004-08-25 » Greg Krehbiel