Chapter Review – “Voice of Authority”
Concerning authority John Rosemond takes a very balanced and practical approach to a sticky topic, obedience, and he says plainly:
“Be not deceived children show respect for parents by obeying them. Parents show respect for children by expecting them to obey.”
The object of parental authority, of course, is not to take control of a child’s life. The eventual aim is to enable him or her to live independently of ours but they will develop the skill to do that only if parents gently but firmly limit their choices long enough for them to develop a sense and taste for good habits.
But, you must remember that, first and foremost, children are human beings and humans are by nature:
- Rebellious and
The Bible actually teaches that all of us have a “sin” nature.
“All have sinned and come short of the glory of God.” Romans 3:23
Not some of us. Not the worst of us and not just those who reach a certain age.
Even our children, as precious, sweet and cute as they are, have a sin nature so when it comes to authority they will resist. Some quietly, some loudly but all definitely.
Probably one of the most common ways they resist is by asking “why” when we make rules or give instruction.
Disclaimer: Asking “why” isn’t always motivated by rebellion. It is natural for children to want to learn and they certainly have a lot to learn but it would be presumptuous to assume that every “why” expresses only a sincere desire to learn the subtleties of life.
John says he has a two part rule governing how he responds to “why” questions:
One: Until a child is mature enough to understand a certain explanation, no amount of words will successfully convey that understanding.
In that case, it is in the child’s best interest for the parent to say “Because I said so” or words to that same effect.
Part Two: When a child is old enough to understand the explanation, he’s old enough to figure it out on his own.”
Part two of John’s answer actually touches on a truth that is often overlooked:
Wisdom is much easier to “see” than it is to apply.
Anyone can see that a well thought-out budget is the best way to protect yourself financially but the constant stream of bankrupted lives is proof that simple wisdom is easily trumped by materialistic desires.
But, aside from that, the truth is children don’t like to obey authority and adults don’t exercise it very well because both are rebellious and flawed. One needs to be under authority and the other needs to exercise it and neither are comfortable with that.
Both tend to get a bit emotional. Children feel repressed when authority figures curb their actions. Adults waste emotional energy feeling guilty for asserting their authority. Adults know they should do something but are uncertain about what to do and feel as if they are forcing the issue in some cases.
That is one reason John says the problem with obedience has less to do with the children and more to do with parents.
Parents who don’t want their child to “feel” bad are in trouble. The “right thing” to do in any given situation is not always the thing that “feels good.”
That is why parents must learn the art of exercising authority. Obedience is to be commanded not wished for. Therefore, a good understanding of “Command Authority” is needed.
Definition: Being In Command
“Commanding” our children isn’t really synonymous with being “Mean” to them, as the following ideas will prove.
- Being in command does not require being loud, boisterous, threatening or violent.
Authority is not based on volume (how loud you scream), quantity (how many times you repeat yourself) or threats (how much damage children fear).
It means holding your ground firmly, calmly and assertively. We aren’t trying to scare our children into obedience. They will not always understand the “why” of our instructions but they should never have reason to doubt our commitment to their well being or what we ask them to do.
- Command in any situation is not expressed through an insulting, exasperated, demeaning tone of voice.
Words should be our primary means of communication but kids learn at a very early age that we communicate more with “tone of voice” than words and they wait for the right emotion before they begin to comply.
Once we show enough anger, reach a certain volume, repeat an instruction for the Nth time, include a few expletives and call them a name or two, they know is it time to move.
That, however, encourages them to develop a manipulative approach to authority figures.
- Being in command does mean you will calmly and firmly expect a certain action.
And you won’t stop calmly stating it, restating it, expecting it and applying an appropriate penalty until they comply.
- Being in command doesn’t mean you will not respond when your kids ask “why.”
It does mean: one, you will give them an age appropriate answer and two, you will not lower yourself to engage a verbal battle.
John says children ask “why” to start an argument and the proof is they fact that they rarely quietly listen when parents do attempt to explain themselves. If children really wanted answers they would carefully attend to the explanations parents give.
But remember, children respect parents when they act in respectable ways. When you engage the argument you lower yourself to their level and lose.
And the truth is wisdom is on the bottom shelf. Anyone can see it and grasp it but only the well disciplined or experienced can implement it.
All of us have done things “against our better judgment” which means we had the wisdom to know better but acted differently anyway. If adults do this, and we all know they do, then why would we be surprised when kids do it too. Don’t insult your child’s intelligence by thinking he or she can’t see the wisdom of your words.
Disclaimer: John makes it clear throughout the book that there are times when we allow kids to do things “against our better judgment” but we must be cautious, careful, measured and strategic about the timing. Allowing a four year old to wander perilously close to a 100 foot cliff so he or she can learn that gravity hurts does not represent good timing. We allow our children to learn “life by experience” when the issues are not life altering.
- You cannot be commanding and uncertain at the same time.
Being in command means we make decisions and when it comes to children, parents become very indecisive. We think that making the wrong decision will have life threatening results.
John says that it is better to be decisively wrong than to be indecisive. Bad decisions, when motivated by a genuine interest in the child will not have life threatening results.
Everyone makes the wrong decision occasionally. You can be certain, however, that decisions, even quick ones, made with the best intentions will not destroy your child.
- Commanding children must also be done with consistency.
If it isn’t consistent it is confusing.
Useful Responses to “Why”
If you tend to get tongue tied when your children ask “why” the following responses might be useful. They are designed for all kinds of “why” situations.
- “Because I said so.” (John Rosemond’s response)
This doesn’t have to be demeaning or threatening. Spoken gently with the right tone of voice it sends the message that you are not only in charge but also in control.
- “I’m not comfortable with that.”
Uncertainties give us hesitation and make us uncomfortable. We aren’t sure what to do so we take the safest option and admit to our uncertainty. This type of response does two things:
It admits to our humanity. We don’t always have all the answers. But it also shows that we aren’t afraid to be in charge.
This response also opens up channels for rational discussion around the issues.
- “I don’t trust the situation.”
When we don’t allow our children to go to certain places or associate with certain people or participate in certain activities they might complain that we don’t trust them. Their trustworthiness, of course, is not always the issue. It may be the situation we don’t trust and honestly speaking there are some situations in which no one could be trusted.
Also, “why don’t you trust me” situations are opportunities to explain that trust is something you earn. If children ask why they are not trusted it is reasonable to ask what they have done or are willing to do to prove their trustworthiness.
- “Let me think about it”
Some “why’s” may not require an immediate answer but do deserve a thoughtful response. If “let me think about it” is followed by a well considered answer in a reasonable amount of time it shows “respect” for the child even if the answer is different to what they wanted.
- Conditions apply
In all cases, whatever the question or the answer, they must be willing to listen quietly when you respond. They don’t have to agree with your answer but they aren’t in a position to disagree until they have listened quietly without interfering. No one has the right to be disagreeable.
Reasons We Don’t Command Our Children
“Authority” in the family serves the same purpose as authority in any other chain of command. It saves and/or betters lives. That is a good thought to keep in mind as you take command. Don’t let the following sentiments rob you and your children of a better home and life.
- We can’t bear the pain.
The things we command our children make them uncomfortable and that in turn makes us uncomfortable. Parents feel the pain of their children especially when they made the rule that caused it.
But there is no way out of the pain issue. Building character and shaping a life always involves a tolerable level of pain.
The parents job is not to protect children from all painful experiences but to make sure the pain they endure leads to high character and quality of life.
The truth is if children don’t endure the pain of developing good character for a short while in their youth they, and the parents, will live with the pain of poor character for a life time.
Either way there is pain. Which would you prefer.
- We want them to love us and feel loved by us.
It is inevitable that children will at some point in their lives “hate” their parents. They will either hate them for forcing the authority/character issues when they are young – and love them later for it – or hate them in their adult lives once they realize what their parents failed to do.
The difference is young children will quite easily give verbal expression to their feelings. Adults just seethe quietly about it for years.
So the choice is yours. You can have your children love you when they are young and resent you when they are older or hate you when they are young and respect you for it later.
- We want the home to be democratically run.
The quality of a democracy is based on the character of the individuals who participate in it and they can only remain stable, non chaotic, when all participants are equally mature and responsible.
Since the point of childhood is the development of maturity, the only kind of government which can exist in a home, according to John, is a “benevolent dictatorship.”
Only as kids grow and mature can they be given more liberties in the decisions they make about their lives and even then they will dictate very little about how their parents run their home. The object is for them to eventually make their own.
I have added a few insights from my own experience raising two sons but the theme of this post is right from John’s book, The New Six-Point Plan for Raising Happy, Healthy Children. These thoughts are only intended to give you a start. For the sake of your children and your sanity get the book inexpensively at Amazon.
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