By Gary Ezzo and Robert Bucknam, M.D.
Children learn by the words we say. Instruction is a real part of the heart
training process. But in the average home most of our instructions come during moments of great frustration. Learning how
to give instructions in such a way that your child will obey, without either one of you being exasperated, is a worthy pursuit.
or later, every parent must decide what obedience will look like in his or her home. The definition is not usually forged
out of a mental exercise with pen and paper but from the reality of what happens after giving instruction. For some parents,
obedience means a prompt response, without murmuring or complaining. For others, it means anything but that. Some parents
count 1-2-3. Others count 8-"9-9.5-9 3/4... I mean it, I'll say 10..." Whatever obedience looks like in your home, try to
improve upon it.
Believe it or not, it is possible to give instruction and receive back a prompt, courteous response.
Of all the practical helps we can offer, this one has undoubtedly the most impact on a child's willingness and ability to
comply the first time. Require your children to respond to your instructions with a 'Yes, Mom' or 'Yes, Dad.' Such
a response does not leave you second guessing. You do not have to ask repeatedly, "Did you hear me?" which only undermines
your leadership. Upon saying, "James in five minutes Mom is going to ask you to put away your puzzle." Mom should hear back,
Why a verbal response? Number one, it is the child's acknowledgement that in fact he heard you. A "Yes,
Mom" lets you know that your child is either committing himself to obedience by taking the appropriate action or to disobedience
by avoiding the task asked of him. But there is no question tha the heard.
How does a verbal response produce obedience?
A parent's initial instruction draws a line in the sand. "Honey, Mom wants you to pick up your crayons right now, please."
She should stick with that. If she repeats her instruction, she draws a second line in the sand. It is a small retreat. "Did
you hear me? Pick up your crayons." Another repeat is yet a greater retreat. Soon, mom's on the floor either begging the child
or picking up the crayons.
But, in contrast, when your child gives back to you a "Yes, Mom," an amazing thing happens.
Your child hears himself commit to obey. He draws the line in the sand himself. There's just something about hearing himself
agree to something that elicits an internal compulsion for compliance.
"Yes, Mom" or "Yes, Dad" stops conflict at the
point of instructions. Parents experience more frustration at times of instruction than in any other single activity in parenting.
Why? Because it is at this point tha tchildren decide to obey or disobey. Disobedience brings conflict, and usually the repeating
parent comes out losing. Once repeating starts, obedience is lost and frustration wells up. And that is with just one child.
antidote? Never get out of the instruction phase without an agreement to obey. An up-front "Yes, Mom" virtually eliminates
Some instructions will be very specific, especially with two, three, and four-year-olds. "Bradon," one
mother called out, "do not play with the bird food. Say, 'Yes, Mommy.'" Bradon's two-year-old hands were wrist deep in the
sunflower mix. If mom had only given the instructions: "Bradon, stop playing with the bird food," his little hands would still
be sifting seed today. But because of the "Yes, Mom" training, he replied and then drew his little fingers out of the bag.
Is this simply a little boy with incredible self-control? No, it is a developmental dynamic associated with a verbal "Yes,
You know tha tmoment immediately after the point of instruction, when you can see a question in your
little guy's eye: "Hmm, do I really wan tto obey this woman - right now?" Now you don't have to hold hyour breath
wondering if he's going to comply or not. In that moment, you only need to say, "Bradon, I need to hear "Yes, Mommy." His
response moves him beyond the moment of a wrong decision...
Initially, if you have a child that is used to ignoring
you, you might have to hold her little face up to you while giving instruction. Mke it a standard practice to get your child
to look you in the eyes when speaking. Eye contact is a focusing skill and helps any child process instruction, and processing
instruction is half the battle in etting a child to follow through promptly. The child that looks around the room rather than
at mom or dad when receiving instruction tends to struggle more with compliance.
How to begin: When introducing this
"Yes, Mom" and "Yes, Dad" concept, start by sitting the family down and explaining what will be required. You can even make
a game of it.
A father told us that one afternoon he sat down with his four-year-old daughter to have this talk. He
instructed her to first listen for dad's voice, and then upon hearing him call her name, she was to say, "Yes, Daddy," and
immediately come to him. In return, she got a big hug from dad. Over the course of that afternoon and evening, he played this
little game twenty times and she responded twenty times with a "Yes, Daddy." That evening, when tucking the child in bed,
he told her, "Starting tomorrow, whenever Mom or Dad calls, you're to say, "Yes, Mom" or "Yes, Dad" and come immediately,
like we played today."
This little exercise has worked with many families. What makes it work is the resolve behind
the parent's instruction.
One side note. If children are going to respond to parents in kindness, parents should do
the same for their children. If we are truly governed by the first principle ("Do to others what you would have them do to
you"), then we will treat others (including our children) the way we wnat to be treated.
Recently, one of the Ezzo
grandchildren paid a visit. After finishing some school work, Ashley called her grandmother. "Grammy?" Anne Marie answered,
"Yes, Ashley." For children, a "Yes, Mom" is a moral requirement. That is because they are in the process of becoming
moral. For adults, "Yes, Ashley," is a moral courtesy, given by one who has reached maturity." When your children
call you, do you answer, "What do you want?" Or do they receive a courteous reply? Kindness is never outgrown.[/size]
taken from: Gary Ezzo and Robert Bucknam, M.D., On Becoming Child Wise: Parenting Your Child from Three to Seven Years.
Sisters: Multnomah Publishers, 1999, pp. 118-119, 122-125.