Sunday, June 14, 2009

Four Levels of Obedience in Children (and Adults)

Doing the right thing gets easier with practise. And this is good, because we’re dragged kicking and screaming into this world it seems and it’s the parent’s job to mould an attitude of obedient initiative in their children. The parent does this in faith that eventually the child will, for themselves, choose ‘self-generated initiative.’

But sadly, this is for many of us already an almost unrealistic goal. Imagine your child of any age over seven identifying a need to do something without prior instruction and just getting on with the chore, homework or assisting in some other way, willingly, cheerfully. Most parents would scoff, not thinking it possible.

Enter the ‘goal of self-generated initiative’…

There are four levels of initiative regarding obedience espoused by Gary and Anne Marie Ezzo.[1] The study of each of these levels of obedience is actually very important as a parent because we can gauge where our kids are at regarding the goal of self-motivated (or self-generated) action.

Not only that, but we should also reflect on this personally (as parents) in our ‘interaction with life’ i.e. in our own obedience--after all, we are the key role model for our children. They won’t take the initiative if they don’t already see it in us!

So, let’s get to those four levels.

The worst level of initiative is suppressed initiative. Neither does the child want to do what we want them to do, nor do they do it. They actively avoid doing what they’re told. Ignoring instructions is the way the child does this.

Forced initiative is where the child does what’s asked, but under protest; right action but wrong attitude. One step better again, when we require the child to do something and we get the right action and it’s linked with the right attitude (even if they don’t “bubble over with enthusiasm”) we’ve achieved prompted initiative.[2]

According to the Ezzo’s, children should only ever be rewarded for acts of self-generated initiative, but to get them closer to this level of obedience kids should be hugged or encouraged when they do things asked of them.

In other words, we should be careful not to reward children for routine compliance.

It’s the same in life; it’s only when we go over and above what is required of us that we deserve reward. How can we expect to be rewarded when we’ve only done what was required of us in the first place?

These four levels are easy to illustrate regarding children. But, let’s not forget that as adults, we too are required to consistently achieve levels of self-generated initiative if we wish our kids to do the same.

Can we, as parents, say that we obey our employers and other authorities in our lives (and even our spouses) immediately, completely, and without challenge or complaint? This, believe it or not, is the biblical standard of obedience; it is totally self-generated.[3]

Most of us don’t even realise that insubordination in our children is mostly brought on by us, the parents. If our parenting has little purposeful direction about it, our kids will sense this and “assert their own.” And not just that; our children’s sense of parental approval, love and acceptance stem from our proactive parenting.[4]

Copyright © 2009, S. J. Wickham. All Rights Reserved Worldwide.
[1] Gary & Anne Marie Ezzo, Let the Children Come… Along the Virtuous Way: Growing Kids God’s Way (Happy Valley, South Australia: Growing Families Australia, 2002), pp. 155-6.
[2] Ezzo, Ibid, p. 156.
[3] Ezzo, Ibid, p. 358.
[4] Ezzo, Ibid, p. 157. “The child whose parents require first-time obedience and encourage him [or her] in the process has a greater sense of parental approval, love, and acceptance than a child in a permissive or authoritarian household.”

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