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  • Debby

    I have a 7 year old son who struggles with issues relating to his adoption, being born drug addicted, and ADHD. His behavior can be very out of control and (what would seem) willfully disobedient and disrespectful.   I have been reading “Laying Down the Rails” and am going to focus on habit training this year.  I would like to start with obedience as suggested, but am not quite sure how to go about it. He has SO many things he is disobedient in- I feel like it would be a losing battle to get him to obey in everything.  Should I pick one particular behavior to work on obedience with? Or should I try to get obedience in everything? Or should we pick a whole different habit? Any advice would be greatly appreciated!

    Rachel Allison

    I have twelve children. The way we begin working on obedience is by giving them a direct command. “Ben, go put your shoes in the shoe bin.” Then we expect Ben to say, “Yes, Mama.” (The first while, I have to say, “Say, ‘Yes, Mama.'”) Occasionally I will ask him, “What did I tell you to do?” and he will repeat the instructions to me. Then I expect him to go do what I have told him to do and, at the beginning, I always have to inspect and make sure it has been done. With the very young children, we do the act with them: I will hold the 18-mo.’s hand and walk with her to the shoe bin, hand her the shoes, and physically move her hands so that she drops the shoes in the shoe bin.

    There is so much involved with obedience: careful listening, selflessness, self-control, patience, etc. that I think it is best to start out with instructions that are given to be obeyed in the moment (not blanket instructions like, “Never complain”). If I wanted him to stop complaining, I would say, “I want you to close your mouth until I ask you to open it again.” That is a simple instruction that he can obey.

    As they get older and have more practice INSTANTLY obeying (and being expected to instantly obey), we can work on multiple-step instructions and those things that require character — those instances of obedience that call to mind things I have told him in the past, those situations where I may not be around to note his obedience or lack thereof.

    It is a HABIT. Habits take time to build! We start out small. I love the way it is presented in Laying Down the Rails because we examine this habit from many different angles (poetry, stories, etc.). This builds their understanding in layers.

    Sometimes we just need to practice a skill repeatedly and pointedly. If our son has a bad habit of slamming the door (an example I think Charlotte gives), we would repeatedly have him obey the instruction, “Come into the room and shut the door slowly and quietly.”

    “Yes, Mama.”

    (He goes out and comes back in, shutting the door slowly and quietly.)

    “Super! I could barely hear that! Let’s do it again. Come into the room and shut the door slowly and quietly.”

    “Yes, Mama.”


    Repeat ad nauseum!

    It has been effective here. I think it is too much to expect them to obey all the things all the time, because … ahem… I’m not so good at that, either. I need reminders (God’s Word, good examples, etc.), and I believe they will need those, too. But we work on it intentionally and delight in the progress.

    (And we do *not* keep track of how many times we have to remind the 13yo that deodorant should be a normal part of getting dressed…)


    Julie Cunningham

    great advice!


    This mom of 12 has great advice.  Implicit in the advice she gives is to try to only give a command your child can obey. I think determing the expectation is often the difficult part for me in dealing with my two adopted sons.  One is an easily excitable/bouncy 6 yo who has experienced lots of stress in the last few years.  He NEEDS a lot of outdoor and excercise time each day.  He also needs regular meals and a snack if we do something really strenuous. If he has these things I can expect a lot out of him…like processing forgiveness and helping make meals.  If he doesn’t…he’s easily frustrated, unable to control his body, loud, and has difficulty obeying.

    My 9yo didn’t come to us until he was 5.  He experiences anxiety with new/unpredictable experiences.   The more there are routines with routine expectations, the lower his anxiety and the more he’s able to obey and be a positive part of what’s going on.  He’s grown a lot in this since he came into our care almost four years ago, but it’s still true.  Of course a child needs to be able to respond in the moment to correction and redirection but this is harder for him and even after 3.5  years with us,  if his anxiety level is heightened for some reason he can’t handle going off script to respond positively to redirection.  Instead he will fight to keep things how he expected, sometimes throwing a tantrum.  Sometimes if possible, it works best to just do whatever helps him be calm (like, “Come sit on my lap just because I say do”) and wait until much later to address the behavior “I saw you got stressed and started saying hurtful things to your friend, we’ve talked about that several times so you need a consequence to help you remember next time and let’s review good choices of what to do when stressed.”

    Hope these nuggets help.  Blessings!!!!!!!!!


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