Setting the Stage: The Importance of Obedience for Preschool Success

“Making the decision to have a baby is momentous. It is to decide forever to have your heart go walking around outside your body.” 
― Elizabeth Stone

Sending your baby to preschool is one of the hardest days for you, Mom and Dad, because you are choosing to allow someone else to partner with you in caring for your "heart." Let’s face it, your child will still be your little “baby” on her 29th birthday. It takes great trust and wisdom when choosing the best place for your child to flourish and grow. 

After all of the hard work and careful consideration to choose a school, parents typically begin to think about what the education world refers to as “preschool readiness,” and even have genuine questions concerning what the word “readiness” means. Should he know his colors? Shapes? Recognize numbers one through five? Say his ABCs in order? I once heard a nervous parent ask a seasoned teacher these questions, and was deeply intrigued by her response. She kindly replied, “No, your child does not need to learn any of those things at home to be ready for school. That list and more is what we teach at school. But there is one important question I would like to ask you as you consider whether your child is ready for preschool. Does your child know how to obey?

That seasoned teacher was not talking about a perfect child who listens and quickly obeys every single time. Of course not. As she was, we are speaking practically. As you read this article, ask yourself: Is my child able to take instruction and receive formative discipline from an authority figure? If you ask any preschool teacher what his or her greatest struggle with a student is, they will share that it is not with the child who is having difficulty distinguishing letters from numbers. It is not with the child who is having accidents during nap time. It is not with the picky eater who won’t eat anything on his plate. It is consistently, however, with the child who has a meltdown every single time he is told “no,” and the one who throws a fit when he is told to do something that he doesn’t like to do and refuses to submit when corrected.

When we think about preparing our children for preschool, lists appear in our heads of everything they, "should be able to do"---1) eat independently with utensils, while hopefully getting at least a few bites in their mouths instead of on the floor; 2) play with other children nicely (no one wants to be the mom of the kid who constantly hits, takes toys, and causes trouble); 3) follow schedules; and 4) properly use the restroom. And while some of these are basic physical requirements for entering preschool, there is really only one thing that your child needs to know before entering preschool…obedience. The rest will all follow. In the Bible, we see that God Himself is the one who has established this: “Children obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right.” (Ephesians 6:1 ESV).

So, now you may be asking as we did, “How can I make my child obey?” The Bible says that in their formative years, we as parents are given the incredible responsibility of shaping the character and conscience of our children (Deuteronomy 6: 5-7; Proverbs 22:6). This does not mean we get to dictate the personality of our kids or lord our authority over them. Rather, these verses teach us to pay attention to our children’s strengths and weaknesses, and remind us to be faithful to guide our children away from self-centeredness.

How can this enormous task be accomplished? Well,
obedience requires consistency: every single time. You give your child a sense of security and safety when you communicate clear guidelines and follow through with enforcing them. Children inherently crave boundaries---they want to know how far they can go while still being secure in the safety of your supervision. Parents are to cultivate that security by being consistent (James 5:12). A major component to the development of obedience in your child is a relationship with you that is built on trust. If you are honest and consistent with your children, they will not question (other than the normal 976 questions that a three-year-old has) your discipline. The goal of discipline should always be instruction, correction, and restoration of the relationship.This means we communicate thoughtfully, correct consistently (disobedience), praise regularly (obedience), and display faithful love for the child even while showing displeasure concerning his actions. We have even heard a good parent tell their child, “You are a good kid, but you made a bad choice and we are going to take care of that before we forgive and forget.”

It is crucial to remember that you, parent/guardian, are the one in charge. Always. Being the one in charge is too much responsibility to place on the small shoulders of a child. You can only expect them to follow instructions and heed warnings when given if you have first instilled the core principle of obedience in your children. This also eliminates the possibility of accidents from unheeded warnings. Will your child obey every single time? No, they won't; and that's okay. But when you instill the core priciple of obedience in your child, you are cultivating a teachable spirit and setting the stage for future success. Obedience opens the door for learning to begin.
By Jennifer Black, M.Ed.
Co-authored by Christina Black, D.Ed.