Three Levels of Obedience in Children’s Development

Three Levels of Obedience in Children’s Development

There are three levels of obedience in children’s development:

  1. The first level of obedience is the level in which a child can only obey the wishes of another if it matches their own will. You might hear your little one say “no no no no” and point to the electrical power point that you have taught them is off-limits before reaching out and touching it anyway. They know they shouldn’t – but they can’t help themselves – literally!
  2. The second level of obedience occurs when a child no longer has any obstacles deriving from their lack of self-control and can always obey, but they are only doing so to satisfy someone else’s wishes e.g.because you or their teacher has asked them to do something. (Think of a room of school children mucking around the minute their teacher leaves the room).
  3. The third and highest level of obedience is known as self-discipline. This is when a child is working to satisfy their own wishes and not working simply to please another – when they are internally driven. For example, cleaning up their room without being asked or continuing to work even when their teacher has left the classroom.

Traditional punishments are arguably ineffective. Yes, they might have the immediate effect the adult is seeking, but at what long term cost? Traditional punishments only teach children to do something out of fear of punishment or fear of you, not for respect for the greater good or because it’s not appropriate (or safe etc.). 

Sometimes it is necessary to step in and discipline your child. However,  keep in mind that discipline and punishments are two very different things. Discipline means “to teach”, not to punish. Punishment is just giving an illogical reaction to something that is perceived by the adult to be ‘wrong,’ e.g. a smack, isolation in time out, sitting on a naughty chair etc.

Discipline uses that ‘wrong’ behaviour as a teachable moment to show the correct and expected behaviour.

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