Four and Five-Year-Olds

"Wonder" by Jeffrey W. Hamilton

Obedience Training

Preschoolers (and kindergartners) can communicate in complex ways. They become an endless source of "Why?" It is no longer enough to know that something exists. They want a reason for it. They are not asking "Why?" to get a detailed explanation but to see the logic and order in this world. Perhaps you will be asked, "Why is the sky blue?" You could give a detailed scientific explanation that would make your physics teacher proud. However, the child will probably be lost before the first sentence is completed. A better answer may be to say that when light shines through things, it sometimes picks up color. Get a colored glass and shine a flashlight through it. Then say that air gives the light a blue color when the sun shines through it. Is it absolutely accurate? No, but it is good enough for a four-year-old. "Why?" is a four-year-old's way of engaging in grownup talk with Mom and Dad. Sometimes they are not interested in the actual answer so much as to be able to say something and have Mom or Dad respond to them.

Naturally, with all this questioning going on, you can expect your rules to be questioned. "Why can't I stay up late?" "Why do I have to go to bed?" "Why do I have to take a bath?" Give a simple, reasonable answer if you feel it is appropriate, but remember you don't have to justify your decisions. If your five-year-old doesn't like the answer, an "I'm sorry you don't agree, but that is the way it is in my house" is a good answer. Both children and parents want appreciation, so when a parent's authority is questioned we sometimes doubt ourselves -- even when the questions come from a preschooler. Remember who is the parent and who is the child. Children need to learn obedience even when they don't understand all the reasons. Isn't this what God expects of His children? Sometimes a "because God said so" has to be good enough. A child needs to learn that "because Mom said so" has to be good enough as well.

As your child develops, he is building on things that he already knows. His movement improves, his speech improves, and his vocabulary improves. The growth around the ages of four and five is very noticeable. A lot of the change comes from the loss of baby fat as his activity increases. A child's memory also develops at this age. For many of us, our earliest recollections come from this period. With the memory comes a sense of time, which leads to a new set of woes. "Dad, when are we going to get there?!!!?"

Just because you have established the limits, it doesn't follow that they are regularly followed. Children sometimes break rules through carelessness. They are easily distracted and forget to be careful with the rules. Sometimes a child just becomes plain lazy about doing what he is told; after all, there are many things that he would rather be doing that are more interesting. And then there is the dreaded rebellious child who doesn't like being told what to do.

Parents need to concentrate on teaching obedience. Rules must be followed whether Mom or Dad is standing over the children or not. In Ephesians 6:4, Paul said that it is right for a child to obey his parents. In Colossians 3:20, Paul said that obedience is pleasing to God. When a child listens to his Dad and Mom, his obedience will make him look good (Proverbs 1:8-9). It is a sign of the decay of this age when men are disobedient to their parents (II Timothy 3:2).

Obedience cannot occur unless the rules are enforced. The primary means of enforcement is spanking as we discussed in the previous chapter. For each misdeed, there must be a just recompense (Hebrews 2:2-3). Spanking should not be done because we are personally insulted by a child's disobedience, but to teach our children to honor authority. The best time to teach obedience is when you can control the environment. For example, your children need to know that they cannot play with some things. Don't wait until you are in a store to teach your children not to touch crystal on the shelf. When your child first begins to crawl and reaches for something he shouldn't have, our first instinct as a parent is to move the item out of his reach. A valuable opportunity for learning is lost when we do this. Instead, move the item within his reach and keep a small switch in your hand. When he starts to grab the object, tell him "No" in a quiet voice and move his hand away. When he reaches for the object again, tell him "No" again in a quiet voice and switch the back of his hand. It usually only takes a few times before the child decides there are better things to do with his time. Even better for the parent is that the training remains. You can tell a child that something is "No" and expect the item not to be touched. Of course, you have to be consistent. One slip of letting a child touch something after telling him "No" will defeat months' worth of training.

You can also teach a child obedience by letting the consequences of his actions be the punishment. Christ learned obedience through His suffering (Hebrews 5:8). It is hard to think of the creator of this world learning obedience, yet it happened because God let Him suffer. Often, we are too protective of our children. We don't let them suffer the consequences of their actions. One gentleman told me that he was afraid that his children would fall into a nearby pond when his wife and he were not looking. When the children were just toddlers, he let them wander over to the pond while he walked behind them. As children are wont to do, they eventually fell into the water. He let them thrash just long enough to realize they were in trouble, but not long enough to swallow the pond and he pulled them out. He said they never wandered near the pond again until he took them there to teach them to swim.

Simply following the rules is not enough, we must also teach our children to gladly obey. God expects His children to follow him with all of their hearts (Deuteronomy 26:16). We can't be pleasing to God if we drag our feet and say, "Aww, do we have too???" Most parents accidentally teach their children reluctant obedience. How many of us have grumbled about having to go to work or to church? Is it surprising then for a child to grumble about having to go to school? Parents also encourage their children to complain. When your child says he doesn't like what you fixed for dinner, do you make them something else? You just rewarded your child for complaining! I can't count the number of parents I have seen encourage their child to delay obedience. "Johnny, pick up that toy. ... Did you hear me, I said pick up that toy! ... If you don't pick up that toy right now, I'm going to have to do something drastic! ... That does it, young man, I'm going to swat your little bottom." Usually, Johnny then quickly picks up the toy, smiles sweetly to his Mom, who forgets all about the threatened spanking. She pats herself on the back for making Johnny be obedient, but she doesn't realize what else she has taught him. Johnny has learned that he doesn't have to do what Mom says until she goes to get the switch. Not only that but if he smiles sweetly, he can avoid the spanking. Invest the time to teach your children to obey you immediately. Delays should be answered with a quiet rebuke and a spanking, not threats.

Some parents don't discourage their children from whining or talking back. Direct punishment will stop the outward disagreement, but sometimes we can do a bit more to insure that obedience is done willingly. Make sure that the consequences of whining are less favorable than quiet obedience. If they whine about leaving their game to come eat supper, send them to their room while the rest eat and allow them to have their meal after everyone else is done. I had one child who complained about having to eat a vegetable his Mom had prepared. Without saying a word, I doubled the portion on his plate. "You don't expect me to eat all of it, do you?!" I quietly added another spoonful. "Mom!" My wife just gave him a puzzled look and said, "Haven't you figured out that you are going to eat more for each complaint?" It took him a long time to finish dinner that night, but he ate every bite. His frequent complaints also stopped. Another option is if a child states they don't like dinner, give them the option of skipping dinner. Of course, there will not be anything else available to eat until breakfast. This is not a punishment, but their choice. Growing children quickly decide that any food is better than going hungry. If you have a child who continually is late for dinner, simply make it a rule that if they are not there, they don't get to eat until the next mealtime.

And then there is the "I didn't hear you" syndrome. Sometimes it is legitimate. Mom yells from the kitchen that dinner is ready and the kids are so engrossed in the latest action video downstairs that they did not notice her call. Make sure your children hear you. Don't teach them to tune you out at their convenience. When talking to them, place your hand on their shoulder. Make them look you in the eye as you talk to them. This way, you know you have their undivided attention. If what you are asking them to do is complex, have them repeat your instructions. If you call them from another room, require them to give a response to indicate they heard you. The old fashion "Yes, sir" and "Yes, ma'am" is not just politeness, they give parents responses that the child was listening. If you don't get a response, don't yell again. Immediately go and correct the inattentiveness. Don't establish a habit in your child by saying things that they can safely ignore.

Learning to listen is an important life skill. We should not let it slide by. Make your children wait for you to finish talking before they dash off to do what you say. "Sara, will you get my Bible? It's on the kitchen table." Meanwhile, Sara is already out the door by the time you said the word "get." Soon she returns and says "I can't find it." Don't go and get it yourself. Ask the child where you told her to find the Bible. You know she wasn't listening, but this makes her understand what the problem was. If you give in and get the Bible yourself, you teach the child that not paying attention means you can get out of a chore quickly.

Children also need to learn not to color the things they hear with what they would like to hear. "Can I have a cookie?" "You can have one after dinner." You soon turn around and find a cookie in his hand. And his explanation? "You said I could have one." Or there is the multiplying cookie trick. "Can I have a cookie?" "Just one" and Junior walks off with one in each hand and one in his mouth. Children and grownups are often guilty of hearing what they want to hear instead of what is actually said. Make sure you teach them to listen attentively and accurately.

Another common problem is the "I forgot" syndrome. You ask a child to pick up his toys and ten minutes later you find him outside on the tricycle. "Did you get all the toys picked up?" "Oh, I forgot," as he dashes back into the house. As Christians, God expects us to remember His laws by doing those laws (James 1:25). Children, too, can only learn the house rules by doing them. Initially, you will have to teach your child to remember by periodically checking on them. Too many parents tell a child to do something and then never check to see if it is done until it is too late. Do you tell a small child to get dressed for church and then get angry when you start to walk out the door and find they are still in their pajamas? Parents have to teach remembrance to their children by periodically checking on them. At first, you will have to look in on them every few minutes. If they are not following instructions, discipline them with a switch. As they learn to concentrate on the task at hand, start to stretch out the times you check on them. Your goal is for them to do something to completion without you having to stand over them.

Be careful not to accidentally teach your children only to work when you are coming to check on them. Some children wait until they hear Mom's footsteps in the hall to "remember" to clean their room. A child like that will grow up to goof off at work when the boss isn't looking. Rebuke a child who takes far longer than is reasonable to accomplish a task. However, make sure your idea of a reasonable length of time is reasonable for the child's abilities.

Somewhere along the line, every child tries yelling and screaming to get what he wants. If a parent gives in to the demands just once, they will be subject to repeated episodes. A tantrum should be an automatic denial of whatever the child is demanding. If they want a cookie, they should be calmly told that for their outburst they don't get any deserts for the rest of the day. If they are wanting attention, send them to their room after switching them for their misbehavior. Many modern psychologists claim that spanking a child who is having a tantrum does not help or causes some future problems. This is absolute nonsense. No child continues actions that result in their own discomfort -- especially when it is accompanied by a denial of their demands.

Be careful not to reward a child's partial obedience. God expects His children to do all that He commands (Joshua 1:8). Suppose you tell Johnny to pick up his room before bedtime. Johnny manages to get two items put away while playing the next hour. Now, what do you do? If you keep him up until he finishes picking up his room, he has learned that partial obedience lets you stay up late. If you tell him to finish it in the morning, he has learned that partial obedience lets you get out of a task, at least for the moment, giving you more time to play. Instead, a parent needs to give the child a reasonable amount of time to complete the task. Don't have them start to pick up their room five minutes before bedtime. There is no way they can complete the task and you will encourage them to only partially obey your instructions. If you forget to tell them in time, then it is your problem. Wait until the next morning when there is sufficient time. Don't make your forgetfulness a cause for teaching partial obedience. Check on their progress while there is a reasonable amount of time to correct their goofing off.

Obedience training applies to our children's time in church. Now is the time to teach them to sit still in class and worship services. Sitting still is a part of a person's listening skills and it is needed for worship and school. Children need to be encouraged to participate in class and in worship. They can answer questions, bow their heads in prayer, and join with the brethren in singing praise to our God. Encourage your children to memorize simple verses or parts of verses each week. Teach them songs. Help them learn the books of the Bible.

So True

To educate a child in mind and not in morals is to educate a menace to society.

Woodrow Wilson


Thoughts for Now and Later

Some day when my children are old enough to understand the logic that motivates a mother, I will tell them:

"I loved you enough to ask where you were going, with whom, and what time you would be home.

I loved you enough to insist that you save your money and buy a bike for yourself even though we could afford to buy one for you.

I loved you enough to be silent and let you discover that your new best friend was a creep.

I loved you enough to make you take a Milky Way back to the drugstore (with a bite out of it) and tell the clerk, 'I stole this yesterday and want to pay for it.'

I loved you enough to stand over you for two hours while you cleaned your room, a job that would have taken me five minutes.

I loved you enough to let you see anger, disappointment, and tears in my eyes. Children must learn that their parents are not perfect.

I loved you enough to let you assume the responsibility for your actions even when the penalties were so harsh they almost broke my heart.

But most of all, I loved you enough to say 'No' when I knew you would hate me for it. Those were the most difficult battles of all. I am glad I won them because, in the end, you won something too."


Age Appropriate Tasks

Below are some suggested tasks that would be appropriate to begin introducing your child to doing. Every child will not be able all these tasks at this age. Some judgment is required on your part as to when your child is mature enough to handle these particular chores.

  • Straighten bedroom well
  • Fully make own bed
  • Trim nails
  • Empty clothes hamper and take clothing to the laundry room
  • Put away underwear and socks
  • Clear off dishes from the table
  • Pick up yard trash
  • Beat area rugs to remove dust and dirt
  • Empty wastebaskets
  • Sweep porches, sidewalks, and patios
  • Wipe dining room table and chairs
  • Help carry in groceries

Your Questions

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