Monday, February 15, 2010

Fostering Obedience?

The Question:

My daughter's attitude is driving me crazy! She is 7, and had always been a very obedient, intelligent, loving kid. Over the last few months, though, trying to get her to do ANYTHING is like pulling teeth! We ask her to clean her room (a job that should take 5 minutes if she's doing it right every day) and 15 minutes later we go in to check on her and she's playing house with her stuffed animals. We take away the distraction and remind her that she's supposed to be cleaning, and 5 minutes later we find her making blanket forts in her closet. We get upset and threaten to take away a priviledge, and then we leave. 5 minutes later she's hiding under her bed, reading.

She acts like this with chores, homework, eating, helping around the house, ANYTHING that means she has to pay attention to her little brother..... I don't know what to do anymore. Here's what we've tried so far.

We have tried a red light in the hallway to remind the kids not to come out and get distracted.
We've tried a coupon system.
We've tried taking away priviledges.
We've even thrown out the things that they refuse to take care of.
We've tried sitting in the room and babysitting her while she does it. That just results in her stuffing things where they don't belong when she thinks we aren't looking.
We've had many loooong discussions about the choices that Satan wants you to make vs. the choices that the Holy Ghost wants you to make, and she's always the first to point out disobedience as a "Satan Choice".

She's a very maternal girl, so we've even thrown in the discussions on how and why she needs to be a good example to her younger brothers. RIght now we have a system set up where every day that their chores get done they earn 5 minutes on the nintendo, and when they earn 1/2 an hour, they can cash it in. Her 5-year-old brother has earned 1 1/2 hours in the time it's taken her to earn 20 minutes. I'm having a hard time buying into the idea that maybe she's just becoming a flake because it's ALL THE TIME, but I'm also having a hard time believing that she's being openly disobedient. Maybe I'm just in denial? If it is just her being flaky, how can we help her focus more? And if she's being disobedient, how to I teach her that this is not OK, since nothing else that we have tried seems to be working? Sorry it's so long, but thanks for any help you can give me!


The Answer:

Dear Mary,

I want to recommend a book that I have come to value very much. It's called, "Raising Your Child, Not By Force But By Love". I warn you right up front that I've recommended this book many times before. Some people have thanked me profusely, while others have politely returned it after a few days. But I love the approach. Rather than being based heavily on natural consequences (the Law of Moses), it's based on the Golden Rule. I see it as a higher law. You treat your child as you would like to be treated. And as they feel very secure in your love and that their agency is important, they will do what is right...eventually.

I think you're in a negative spiral with your daughter. She doesn't really care if she pleases you and she isn't really responding to her conscience. She knows what is right but she doesn't feel motivated to do it. So you can force her to do it. You can stand over her and cajole her and blackmail, threaten and bribe and indeed, the job will get done, but what has been the price?

I would start at square one. I would work first on the relationship. Focus heavily on your daughter for a few days without making many demands. Give physical affection. If she is resistant to this, it's because she really doesn't feel loved by you. I know that's not true, but that's how she's feeling. Do lots of things with her and for her and win her heart back. Ask her to do something and give her a deadline. "Your favorite show is on in 15 minutes. Can you have your room cleaned by then?" If you come 10 minutes later and it's not even started, say (you're not going to believe this) "Oh no, I don't want you to miss your show. Can I help you? ....Can I do it for you?" I know what you're thinking. What??!!! What is that teaching my daughter? I'll tell you. It's teaching her that you love her absolutely unconditionally---without manipulation, no strings attached. You clean her room and leave a piece of candy on her pillow with a note that says "I love you." This consistant show of love will accomplish two very important things. Your love and regard for her will grow. Her anger will subside and she will feel free to act. The whole time you're working, she really will feel that she's been unfair. She'll be waiting for you to snap, but you won't and when she sees that, she will step up...eventually.

I keep a steady constant pattern of this going in my children's lives. It doesn't mean I'm permissive---far from it. I just keep them always within the circle of my love. I give and I ask things of them. I do many things because I love them. They do many things because they love me. As they turn into teen-agers, I know they'll be wonderful if I haven't killed their conscience and their love for me by dominating them when they were children.

This isn't just a nice theory. This is a wonderful way to parent. It is consistant with God's plan which is based heavily on love and agency. Maybe the reason I gravitated toward this method is because it goes well with my personality. I'm not sure if it's for everyone. But since it's me you asked, I will tell you that it has made motherhood a joy instead of a burden. And my children have grown up to be my closest friends.

With all my love,



  1. I am new to your blog (directed from and I have been reading all the latest posts, I LOVE IT! Often my husband and I have tons of questions and it's nice to hear an expirienced mothers Answers! Thank you! I'll be checking back frequently :)

  2. thanks for the book recommendation, i've been wanting to read one just like it and i feel like it will give me even more insight into how you parent because you seem so wonderful!

    if you don't mind i thought i'd recommend one too. i'm currently reading it & it was recommended to me by a wonderful mother of 6.

    it's called "raising children who think for themselves" by Elisa Medhus
    i've loved that it's based on helping children learn to be self-directed & make choices based on their moral compass rather than on external influences.
    it's been helping me and i had been feeling a bit like the person who asked the question.

    thanks so so much jane!

  3. I just have to say thank you Natalie and Jane a million billion for taking the time to write this blog. I am a new mother, and you are exactly the kind of mother I hope I can be! You give me so much hope and inspiration. I find myself having a lot of similar thoughts and feelings about parenting as you express but I feel like I am doubted because of my inexperience. I am so glad and relieved to see that after all of your experience in parenting you are recommending the things you do. You give me so much hope that adding more children to our family won't have to burst our little bubble of happiness.

    I'll keep sending folks your way!

  4. I love reading all posts on this blog. I am not even a mother yet--not even expecting--and I find myself immersed in the beneficial and heartfelt advice Jane gives. I think this is valuable preparation for me! Thank you so much!

  5. The last two posts have given me a lot of questions. The love approach sounds like a good idea but I don't understand how responsibility could be the outcome of it. I have three kids and the oldest is three so I will use an example that is pertinent to me.

    My three year old has come into my room in the middle of the night and wants to sleep in my bed. So I tried the love approach and let her sleep in my bed because that is what I would want. But then the next night she is right back in my room. I can't let her sleep in my bed I still have a baby that I feed in the middle of the night. So how could the love approach teach her that she has to stay in her bed?

    The same thing happened with cleaning her room. I cleaned it the first time and the next time she just told me to clean it.

    So I see how it could work after they have already learned that things have consequences but would the love approach really work for toddlers?

  6. Very good point! As I said, don't mistake this approach with permissiveness. Still be firm and consistant about expectations but in a respectful, kind way. If you need your daughter to sleep in her bed, then lead her back and tuck her in. Use a chart with a reward if she sleeps in her own bed for three nights. Find ways to help her succeed. She may be too young to clean a whole bedroom alone. Give her smaller jobs.

    The golden rule doesn't mean you always say yes. You say yes whenever you can and when you can't, you firmly say no. "I wish you could sleep with me too but we all have to sleep in our own beds." (big hug)
    This is different than "If you get out of your bed again, no tv tomorrow."

    I don't usually frame things up with consequences or try to set my children up for failure. I just say what I expect and stay with it til it happens. Keep it positive.

    And as I mentioned, this method goes well with my personality. It might be confusing and frustrating to others. Find what works well for you.

  7. For the mom whose 3 year old ends up in her bed each night...I have something to share that worked for our 4 year old.

    He would sneak so quietly into my bed that I would not even realize he was there. Until some point in the morning. I have a chronic pain condition that is exacerbated by lack of sleep. I love him and he is a snuggly little boy who needs lots of extra loves but I needed my sleep. So one day I explained to him that I loved him and wanted him to feel safe at night so if he had a bad dream or needed to come get in my bed I understood, but that my body hurt when I did not get good sleep. So the next day when it was normally his quiet time to draw or look at books instead I would come and get in his bed with him so we could both get some extra rest.

    He tried it exactly twice and then . . .well he's not sleeping in my bed but he does get in with his older brother.

    It is a solution that worked for me....

    Just thought I'd share in case it might be of help to someone...

    I've also had someone share about letting them open a sleeping bag on the floor to sleep next to your bed instead of in it...


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