Are kids innately obedient or innately rebellious?
I think the answer is a bit of a paradox that deserves exploring. If you ask any parent of a 2 to 18-year-old child, they will tell you that their amazing, wonderful, brilliant, one-of-a-kind kiddo is absolutely occasionally kinda totally rebellious-ish. What. The. Deuce. Does that mean?
The short answer is this: Kids are innately rebellious and, simultaneously, hard-wired for obedience. They WANT a structure that helps them choose to obey and receive the rewards and positive consequences associated with their good behavior. But they are not born with the innate ability to create that structure. We, as parents, have to provide that for them.
Creating the structure that our kids need in order to push themselves gently, or sometimes forcefully, into obedience can be done a couple of different ways.
One way is through simple consistency and simplicity in parenting. By merely creating an environment of positive and negative feedback with each good and/or bad behavior that is reinforced each time by each parent as a lifestyle, you create a subconscious environment that the child will inevitably learn and to which they will gradually assimilate. This is the hardest way because it requires so much discipline on the part of the parents. It is probably the oldest way of creating obedient children.
There are many variations of the types of positive/negative feedback and just as many variations on the amount of obedience required by families. I don’t think there is one right standard of behavior. For example, you may not want your kids jumping on the bed or the couch. In our house, we encourage it. The standard that I believe is not relative to the family, but is the actual difference between behavior and obedience.
A child who defies the rules and policies of their home is engaging in disobedience, even if the behavior is not necessarily a negative or destructive behavior. If mom and dad say not to jump on the bed, but little boy does it anyway, that is disobedience and needs to be addressed appropriately.
Bringing obedience-based discipline into consciousness has been such a huge change for so many families I’ve worked with over the years. I will tell you, though, that the biggest mistake I see made is that there is not clarification made for the children.
“Tommy, if you jump on the bed, you’ll have to go to time out.”
This tells Tommy that there is a negative consequence to his doing a very fun thing that he REAAAALLLLLYYYYY wants to do. Tommy must now choose between not doing a very fun thing and doing ABSOLUTELY NOTHING. How can he do that at 4 years old? I know a lot of adults who can’t even pull that off!
Enter the concept of RTO.
If you ask my 7 and 4-year olds, they will tell you that:
“R is for Respect. When mommy and daddy ask us to do something, we show respect by saying, “Yes sir and yes ma’am!”
“T is for Trust. Trust means that we believe that what mommy and daddy are telling us is good for us.”
“O is for Obedience. Obedience means doing the thing that mommy and daddy asked you to do and OBEY RIGHT AWAY! And if we want to ask “why” or another question, we can ask after it’s done.”
I wrote a blog a couple of weeks ago called “Lock it up.” Almost every time I had my kids lock it up for the first year, I would go through RTO with them and have them each say it back to me as best they could. While they are locked up is a great time, maybe the best time, to talk about RTO because they are already in a state of obedience and attention.
The real power of teaching this concept lies in the consciousness and the contrast.
Let me explain that. When you have the children learn that they are responsible for obeying, they will naturally look for a pattern to that.
The right brain will subconsciously absorb the unspoken pattern, but the left brain is looking for the very conscious, defined, literal pattern. Which is exactly what RTO gives: A conscious pattern that the child can follow in order to achieve obedience and positive consequences. The contrast can now be made between the conscious decision to engage in RTO or to disobey and have negative consequences.
If you want to know more about which side of the brain is stronger for your child, take this short assessment! Figuring out your child's cognitive style and hemispheric weakness is key to parenting and communicating with them effectively.
Here’s the fun part-- Rather than getting immediately frustrated and/or angry and snapping at a child who is being disobedient, you can put a buffer between that moment and the moment where you have to enforce consequences for your kiddo’s disobedience.
You can say, as loudly as you want to (although I recommend a moderate tone when you are frustrated), “LOCK IT UP!” Then, ask them to tell you what RTO means. They may sullenly repeat it back to you, tail between their legs. This is when you must revert to the true “lock it up” posture. It is so important that during this moment, they stand with confident, strong posture and look you in the eye.
This is the moment they get to own up to their behavior and make a quick change, a quick decision that will alter their outcome. In life, they will not always get to have a buffer between bad choices and consequences, but during the learning phase of life, this will prove invaluable. It will teach them how to plan their actions and make choices more quickly and effectively.
Soon, when your kids are pushing back on something you ask them to do, you will do what my wife and I do-- simply look at the kids and gently ask them, “RTO?”
They will think for a second and say back to you, usually somewhat quietly and with a bit of reluctance, “RTO…” and they will go do what you asked. And many times, they will do it with a quiet joy on their face because they are hard-wired to be obedient and you just gave them the tools to do it.