How to Train your Child to Obey without Force

I’ve noticed that society is opposed to obedience. Our culture does not like or respect authority.

Current parenting styles encourage compliance rather than obedience.

Or they suggest that expecting obedience is not fair to your child or that it’s unkind and even abusive because you, the parent, are being a tyrant by expecting, or even wanting, obedience.

It’s time to turn back to the Bible and find out what it says:

“Children, obey your parents in all things: for this is well pleasing unto the Lord.” Colossians 3:20

“Children, obey your parents in the Lord: for this is right.” Ephesians 6:1

1 Samuel 15:22 “And Samuel said, Hath the Lord as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices, as in obeying the voice of the Lord? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to hearken than the fat of rams.”

Proverbs 30:17 “The eye that mocketh at his father, and despiseth to obey his mother, the ravens of the valley shall pick it out, and the young eagles shall eat it.”

God takes obedience seriously, so let’s talk about it!

Compliance vs Obedience

There’s a difference between compliance and true obedience.

Compliance is acting in response to a request while you privately disagree with it. It’s going along with something but the heart is not involved, only the behaviour.

But true obedience comes from the heart, and is:

  • Willing – the will is engaged, and the body language will tell you if it is so.
  • Cheerful – grumbling, complaining, and sighing are all signs of a will that is not engaged.
  • Prompt – delayed obedience is actually disobedience.

How do you get a defiant child to obey without force?

True obedience can’t be forced through the exercise of tyrannical authority, fear tactics, or threats.

It has to be gained by winning the heart of your child.

Getting a child to obey from the heart is the goal, but how do we do that?

Understand your parental authority

God gave you the authority in your home and you are accountable to Him for how you exercise it. He commands parents is to not provoke their children (Ephesians 6:4)

His command to children is to obey their parents. (Ephesians 6:1).

When you require obedience of your child, in accordance with God’s command, you are not stunting their development.

Obedience creates a safe environment for your children to grow.

The secret is to exercise authority in a Christlike manner, without harshness, anger, manipulation, or force.

Do heart work

Always aim to win the heart of your child and not just gain behavioural compliance. This is one reason many kids go astray once they leave home – because they have been complying for years, but their hearts have never been won over.

Pray for wisdom to know how to reach your child’s heart, to get to the root of the problem and not just deal with behaviour.

Ask yourself the question: “What’s going on in my child’s heart right now?” and deal with that.

Pro tip: your child’s body language will give you a clue as to what’s going on in the heart. Stiffness, scowling, pulling their hand away from yours, resisting you in some way – these all indicate resistance to your authority.

Work with your child until you see submission and softness.

Create clear expectations

Spouting off instructions when no one is paying attention is a waste. Make sure you have your child’s attention. Look them in the eye and speak clearly. Get them to repeat back to you.

Don’t repeat your instructions. If you make sure your child is paying attention when you give an instruction and they don’t immediately follow your directions, then that is disobedience.

The more you repeat instructions, the more you condition your kids not to follow those instructions.

Give short, simple, age-appropriate commands instead of long lectures.

Try lowering your voice. It somehow gets the attention far better than a loud, harsh voice.

Give them freedom of choice

God gave Adam and Eve the choice in the garden – He made His expectations clear for them not to eat of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. He also told them what would happen if they did eat from it.

Then He allowed them the freedom to choose – all while providing plenty of other options for them to eat from.

Your child can choose to obey or not. However, if they choose to disobey they will reap consequences. This is the Biblical concept of sowing and reaping.

Galatians 6:7 says, “Be not deceived, God is not mocked: whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap.”

If you don’t do your chores (cause), no free time today (effect).  

Make disobedience the child’s problem not yours – apply consequences

If you don’t follow through with consequences, you condition your children not to obey you. Consequences make your child’s disobedience their problem, not yours, and motivates them to change.

“The goal is not to control the children to make them do what you want. The goal is to give them the choice to do what they want, and make it so painful to do the wrong thing that they will not want to.” Boundaries with Kids, 63, Cloud & Townsend

The child’s behaviour must become a problem for themselves, not for you. Once it does become a problem for the child, he will be motivated to change.

Your role is to help your child want to solve their problem. Consequences provide this motivation.

Related: How to get your kids to listen to you in 3 easy steps

Expect obedience the first time

Don’t count to 3. Don’t threaten. Just give your command and expect prompt obedience. Then give consequences if the child doesn’t do it. Every time.

If you feel like you need to give a reminder, say “I need you to obey”. But don’t keep giving reminders.

Play obedience games

Here are some ideas for games to encourage obedience:

  • Role play,
  • Play “Simon Says” (or “Mommy says”)
  • Set a timer to help them get done in time – let’s see how many toys you can put away in 2 minutes
  • Play Mother, May I?
  • Run to Mommy – Encourage your child to go and play, but to listen for your voice. Then call out at random times “Run to Mommy”.

Note: Games shouldn’t take the place of the expectation of prompt obedience. Use them for training purposes and to emphasise the importance of obedience.

Do a Bible study

Find out what the Bible says about the importance of obedience. Teach your children why God wants them to obey.

Here are some reasons:

  • God gave parents authority for the children’s safety
  • Obeying parents translates into obedience to God as they grow
  • Shows we love God and pleases Him
  • We are blessed when we obey

Never give a command you’re not intending to see carried out

Follow through is the most important step in training your kids to obey. There is no point in creating an expectation or threatening a consequence if you are not going to follow through and carry it out.

Get your child to respond, “Yes, Mom” or, “I’m coming”. Then make sure they do what you’ve asked.

Pay attention. Don’t be zoned out.

Consistency is key!

Give freedom to appeal

“Mom, I know you asked me to wash the dishes, but would it be ok if I do xyz first?”

This is perfectly acceptable and encourages good relationship with your kids. Talk about this when you are not in the heat of the moment and allow your kids to have reasonable opportunity to appeal.

However, this shouldn’t be their response to you every time you ask them to do something.

Consider their developmental ability

This will make obedience easier for your child.

Young children can follow only one command at a time. ‘Put your PJ’s on” is appropriate for a 3 year old. Not, “Go and drink water, brush your teeth, put on your PJ’s, and get into bed.”

Around age 4-5 children can handle multiple commands, but the translation is slow and every child is different. Try two things and see if your child can handle it. Work your way up to more.

Consider their circumstances

Are they extra tired, sick, hyper-focused on a toy or game? Don’t try and jerk your kids out of something they are highly focused on.

Get their attention or give a warning that there’s going to be a change in activity soon. This will make obedience easier for them.

Related: Why you shouldn’t thank your children when they obey you

Give rewards

Reward obedience with more freedom and responsibility.

“Since you’ve obeyed the rules about only playing with these drawers in the kitchen, you can play there as long as you like.”

Or, “Since you’ve obeyed the rules about looking after your bike, we’ll help you buy a better one.”  

The bottom line with obedience is to remember that God gave you authority as a parent. When you expect your children to obey you, you are training them to respect God’s authority and to obey Him.

And along with true obedience that comes from the heart, always comes blessing.

About The Author

Jennifer Lovemore

Jennifer has three grown kids and is married to her best friend, Richard. She started this website as a platform to help families, and specifically women, to take control of their lives and grow themselves spiritually, mentally & emotionally, and to discover their God-given purpose and live it out with confidence. She is a trained Life Coach and has diplomas in relationship counselling and CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy). She is a certified SYMBIS (Save Your Marriage Before It Starts) facilitator. She lives in sunny South Africa.

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