First-time obedience is a phrase you commonly hear in Ezzo parenting circles. But what exactly does it mean? It’s really quite simple to understand. First-time obedience means your child obeys your instruction the first time, no questions asked.
Actually achieving first-time obedience isn’t easy. This is another one of those principles that is much harder on the parents than it is on the child. It’s all about what you expect of your child and laying out those expectations clearly. It’s about setting a standard, and in this case, you are setting the standard quite high.
What does first-time obedience look like?
- Your child responds to the call of his name with “yes, mommy”.
- Your child gives you eye contact when you call his name.
- Your child immediately complies with any instruction you give, whether it’s putting his shoes on or cleaning his room.
- Your child obeys with an attitude of submission and a happy heart.
What does first-time obedience NOT look like?
- Your child ignores you when you call his name.
- You repeat your instruction five or 50 times before he complies. (This is 50th-time obedience!)
- Your child counts on your inconsistency and will keep pushing the envelope to find out how serious you are today.
- Your child whines or talks back when you give an instruction. If it worked once before, it might just work again.
- You offer threat after threat to get your child to comply.
- You count to three in a threatening tone when your child doesn’t comply.
- You and your child end the day frustrated and stressed out.
First-time obedience in action: the good
Here’s a real-life example of what first-time obedience looks like. We had been struggling with getting William to settle down during bath time right before bed. It’s my husband’s job to bathe William and put him to bed while I do so with Lucas. Every night, they both would end up frustrated and angry. Every night, my husband would tell William over and over to settle down. Every night, William would get crazy. Every night, my husband would rush through the job just to get it done and get William in bed without further incident. Not a very good relationship-building experience for either of them.
After being reminded by my contact mom and her husband of what was going wrong, my husband immediately fixed the problem. He took a minute to look William in the eye and explain to him that if he got crazy, he would be told one time to settle down. And after that, he would receive a consequence. My husband was very clear on what that consequence would be. And he reiterated, in positive words, what it meant to not be crazy (quiet voice, look at and listen to Daddy, put on your pajamas quickly and compliantly, etc.). This non-conflict training was all that was needed. My husband clearly laid out the rules and William clearly knew what was expected of him. He had one chance and one chance only. William knew he didn’t want the consequence that was being offered, so we got our first-time obedience.
Now if William chose to disobey, my husband would have had no option but to administer the consequence. Following through on what you say is a key component of achieving first-time obedience. If you don’t follow through, your child will realize it, and he will keep pushing you to see how far he can get. Then you quickly slip back into threatening and repeating parenting. So always make sure the consequence you say you will give is a consequence you can give confidently. If the whole family is going to the zoo, and your child acts up in the parking lot after you’ve driven two hours to get there, you don’t want to threaten to go home. If you know you can’t follow through or if it would be unfair to the rest of the family, find a different consequence.
First-time obedience in action: the bad
Recently, we were at a restaurant that had a children’s play area. Nearby sat a family with a young girl (under 3) who wanted to play before she ate her meal. Her father told her repeatedly to sit and eat her meal. Every time he told her to sit down, she did. But she kept getting off her chair over and over. After about the third time of her getting off her chair, she wasn’t so interested in complying with her father’s request to sit down. In an effort to coax her back to the table, the father said that she wouldn’t be able to play if she didn’t eat. Not five seconds after saying this, he asked her if she wanted a time-out.
Now this example shows the good and the bad. It’s good that the father kept insisting that she sit down and eat her meal. Some parents would give up the fight. It’s good that she kept sitting down after being told to do so. But what ultimately confused the girl was the father not being consistent with his consequences. After the third time she got out of her chair, he should have elevated the consequence. They could have gone on all night with her getting out of her chair, being told to sit back down, and her getting back out of her chair again and again. And he shouldn’t have given her two different consequences for the same offense.
This scenario would have looked much different if the father had explained to his daughter before they sat down to eat (or even before entering the restaurant) that she would be expected to sit in her chair until she was done eating. At that point, the father would have also explained to her what the consequence would be if she chose to disobey. With everyone understanding the rules, the girl would have been much more likely to obey and the father would have been more confident with his discipline.
Recognizing what first-time obedience does and doesn’t look like is the first step to achieving it. In my next post, I’ll go into further detail about what exactly what you can do to achieve first-time obedience with your child.