Verbal authority. Some people have it. Some people need to develop it.
My mother, at 5’7 and slight of build, taught high school English. She was a tough and effective teacher. Over the years she has had many students tell her she was their favorite high school teacher.
But don’t doubt that she was in control of her classroom. She had football players weighing twice as much as her completely under her control. Her greatest challenge? One year she had an afternoon class of thirty, comprised of hormonal football players and flirty cheerleaders.
She exerted her authority … and they learned English.
Her example inspired me when I taught high school for a few years. And it should inspire you. A teacher, a pastor, and yes, a parent needs to understand and be comfortable exercising authority for the good of his/her sheep.
Speaking with Authority
Charles Spurgeon has described our Heavenly Father as having both perfect authority and affection. To paint with a broad brush, I believe today’s parents of young children are nailing the affection part but often missing the authority part.
How do you speak to young children with authority? Though I cannot point to a chapter and verse, these suggestions come from some years of experience. Child training is parent training. Here are some ways to train ourselves.
1. Use your child’s name to get his attention. Children are often busy and deeply engrossed in their play. Their name should and will cut through the clutter.
“Would you go outside and get your sister?”
2. Makes sure they can hear you. It should go without saying that we speak in a way that they can hear us. If they are upstairs, don’t yell from the kitchen. Walk to the bottom of the stairs.
3. If they are where they can see you, in most cases they should also look at you. This is just polite. But our attention also goes where we look. So if we give commands without them looking at us, it probably has not cut through the clutter of the day.
4. Train them to give you verbal positive response. I cover this extensively in Why “OK” is not OK. But there will probably be many conversations like this.
“We are going to leave in five minutes. It’s time to get ready. (Understand?)”
5. Watch for obedience and notice disobedience. As parents we give many instructions throughout the day. It can be tiring. But we need to carefully observe what we are saying and what the response is. God is not a Threatening-Repeating Parent, and neither should we be. He says what he means and means what he says. And so should we. Authority is enforced by consequences.
How Do I Train this Verbal Response Habit?
But how do I train my children to give me eye-attention and verbal-attention? Simply refuse to go to the next step until they give you their attention. Repeat if necessary.
“Anthony and Lisa, let me have your attention.”
“Look at me, please, and say ‘Yes, Mom.'”
“That’s better. Would you please… Do you understand me?”
As parents, we are constantly, constantly training. At some point we may decide that this has become an issue of disrespect and disobedience and start to have consequences for it. But at the beginning, it is train, train, and retrain.
For Their Good and God’s Glory
As parents, God has delegated authority to us to exercise for the good of our children. They are commanded by God to obey us and honor us. This is for their good. And it is for God’s glory. As J.C. Ryle has said, “You must not wonder that men refuse to obey their Father which is in heaven, if you allow them, when children, to disobey their father who is on earth.”
For further reading on the Why of Discipline, read chapter 7 of The Disciple-Making Parent – Preparing Your Children for the Gospel.
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