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Teaching Obedience to Young Children ("Enlightening" Sophia)

“Mom, for the last two days I’ve had to feed Sophia from my lap because she refuses to sit in her highchair. You’ll probably have to do the same today while I’m at work.” “Oh, I’m sure we’ll be just fine,” replied her mother (Barbara).

Later that morning, at Sophia’s regular snack time, Barbara sliced a banana into a bowl and sat the bowl on the highchair tray. When she attempted to place her 10-month-old granddaughter in the highchair seat, Sophia immediately stiffened her legs, arched her back, tightened her lips, and refused to slide down into the chair. Calmly, but firmly, Barbara said, “Sit down.” Sophia turned her head to the side and held her stance, clearly indicating that she had no intention of sliding down into the highchair. Barbara had given Sophia a chance to follow her directive and Sophia had refused.

Next, Sophia tried to grab a banana out of the bowl, a move Barbara anticipated. Barbara quickly picked up the bowl, looked her granddaughter straight in the eye and said in a quiet, direct, confident tone, “When Sophia sits, Sophia can eat the bananas.” Barbara then put the bowl on a nearby counter, sat down in a chair beside Sophia and pretended to read a magazine, giving Sophia no attention at all. Within a few moments, Sophia slowly slid her legs down into a sitting position. Barbara responded with, “Thank you, Sophia. Now you may have your bananas.” When Sophia finished her snack, Barbara wiped her hands and face, kissed her forehead, and took her out of the highchair. The incident was over almost as quickly as it had begun. Though no one was worse for the wear, Sophia had been enlightened; her grandmother was in charge!

Upon returning home that afternoon, Barbara’s daughter inquired as to whether Sophia had resisted sitting in her highchair. “Yes, she did,” Barbara responded. “I’m sorry that you had to feed her on your lap, Mom,” her daughter replied. “Oh, I didn’t,” said Barbara, as she proceeded to share how she had managed the situation. Barbara’s daughter admitted to her mother that she ‘gives in’ to Sophia because she feels guilty about being away from her all day and wants the time that they spend together to be free of discord. She erroneously rationalized that making sure Sophia was “happy” would guarantee a strong mother-daughter bond for all time.

Because the nature of young children is to want what they want when they want it, proper behavior must be taught. Regularly appeasing children's desires undermines healthy emotional development by sabotaging opportunities for them to learn to manage frustration, disappointment, and adversity. When adults 'give in' to a child's negative behaviors in order to avoid discord, they open the door for such behaviors to continue and send a clear message to the child that he/she is in control.

Trust, not the assurance of happiness, is at the heart of a strong parent-child bond. Key to instilling trust in children: Unconditional love and strong parental leadership. Sophia yielded to Barbara’s directive because she trusted her grandmother’s love and viewed her as a leader. She believed that her grandmother meant what she said.

Barbara’s daughter has changed her child-rearing approach. The change has resulted in Sophia viewing her mother as a strong leader; a leader who is to be listened to and whose directives are to be followed. A new level of trust has emerged and both mother and daughter are happier. Mission accomplished!

©Sharon Knapp Lamberth, March 2023


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