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    What to do With Preschoolers: Pre-Ambleside 401

    February 3, 2011 by Brandy Vencel

    I‘m pretty sure this is my last post on this subject. I’m all about simple, even in Kindergarten, which in my mind is still preschool. Most five-year-olds are not really in need of time in a classroom. Instead, they need time to explore and run and stretch their limbs and their imaginations in the world that God made. When we “step it up a notch” for Kindergarten, we mean our read-alouds become chapter books (rather than all picture books), or that reading lessons have commenced, or that we are more consciously than ever preparing that child for Year One as we walk along the way.

    We do not mean that the child is spending, or needs to spend, hours each day, “studying.”

    The 4-1-1- on the 4-oh-1
    Here’s the deal. I was already thinking about writing this post, and then I went to the conference that I mentioned on Monday. The question as to what to do with preschoolers arose, and all four speakers confirmed that the number one thing to do with preschoolers is…

    …drum roll, please…

    develop the habit of first-time, cheerful obedience.

    I scheduled this as my 401 post because, though it is universal for all preschoolers, it is by far the most difficult to accomplish.

    Or, at least, it has been (and is) for me.

    If your preschooler tells you “no” when you ask or tell him to do something, he is in rebellion to your authority. If your preschooler screams at you when he cannot have his way, he is in rebellion to your authority. If you find yourself in constant fear of your preschooler’s responses (and, oh, have I been there, sister), he is in rebellion to your authority. If you have to tell your preschooler five times, and end the last time with “now!” in a firm voice, in order to get him to do what you ask, he is in rebellion to your authority.

    I still remember the day that I realized that I was afraid of my Daughter A., who was probably 2 or 3 at the time. That night, my husband and I had a conversation, and my mothering has been different ever since. Even though it was a horrible (and embarrassing) realization, it was also the day I realized that God made parents to be in charge, and He ordained an hierarchical order for a reason.

    Why is Obedience so Important?
    If your child is obedient he will…

    …be easier to potty train…

    …be responsive when you teach him something…

    …contribute to the peaceful (not perfect, but peaceful) atmosphere of your home learning project…

    …and so on…

    The most challenging thing about teaching children at home comes on the days when someone decides to challenge the mother’s authority. Ask any homeschooling mother, and she will confirm the truth of this. Rebellious children are almost impossible to teach. They can stretch a five-minute lesson into a two-hour fiasco with ease. They can make us want to quit, even if we know we are called to do this and know we’d be disobeying God to do otherwise.

    And they will make us hate our job. Oh, maybe not all of it, but a lot of it.

    Let’s all be honest.

    Rebellious children, be they toddlers or six-year-olds, are just plain no fun.

    Is Obedience a Habit?
    Charlotte Mason believed that obedience was a habit that could be trained, and I’m inclined to agree with her. We all have our routines. Once upon a time, during a particularly challenging time in our life, I realized that my oldest and I had a Bad Day Habit. It wasn’t that every single morning, he awoke and decided to challenge my authority. I am sure that in the beginning, it was that way. But after a year or so, the problem was not anyone’s individual decisions, but rather the unhappy habits we had built. Every day, we both played our parts in the same script, with the same tearful results.

    Toddlers and preschoolers do make decisions about obedience. I have seen a toddler with That Look in his eyes, deciding whether or not to challenge me on something, considering the wisdom of Experimenting with Mom to see what happens.

    It’s that look of consideration, of toying with possible rebellion, that convinces me that these ages are perfect for training in the habit of obedience that will make the paths of lessons at home run smoothly.

    The Most Important Thing
    There is really only one command given to children in the Scriptures: obey your parents. Everything else flows from this, for this is how a child pleases the Lord. When I had to decide to take the harder road in mothering, it was this thought–that my rebellious child was unpleasing to the Lord–that gave me encouragement.

    At the end of the day, I was not doing this to make my life easier, or even to make lessons easier.

    I wanted to help my child please the Lord.

    All of us are to seek first the kingdom of God. For little children, this means first learning to obey their parents, given to them by God for their protection and nurture and instruction. How can we protect them, if they will not heed our warnings? How can we nurture them, if there is a breach of rebellion between us? How can we instruct them, if their hearts are hardened to our wisdom, if their disobedience has given birth to prideful, unteachable hearts?

    And so we start young. We must. We help them build the habit that is foundational to their life in Christ, the part they have in God’s kingdom.

    If we do nothing else at this age, our time will be well spent, and the foundation will be laid for our future success with them.

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  • Reply monique April 2, 2016 at 6:18 pm

    Is or are there any examples that you can give in this area of training for first time obedience? MY son is on the autism spectrum and this has been the most difficult part for me. What exactly did you do to correct the disobedience in your kids? Please give me a 123 step plan. I desperately need guidance.

    • Reply Brandy Vencel April 2, 2016 at 6:38 pm

      I think that autism is tricky, and it would be worth trying to talk with Tammy Glaser if you ever get the chance. She has a lot of wisdom when it comes to autism — I know she prefers RDI (Relationship Development Intervention) rather than ABA therapy for a reason.

      First, we did a lot of training in advance. For example, I didn’t call a child to come without first training a child to come. We’d practice in the living room once the child learned to walk. My husband would call the child and we’d celebrate when he came, and then I’d do the same, with the child walking between us.

      We started when they were very young, and we spent a lot of time making them redo until they did it obediently — so let’s say I told a child to put their socks in their clothes hamper, if they did it right away, fine. We might even cheer for them if the occasion seemed to merit it. But if they didn’t do it, or they did it with a bad attitude, they had to do it again and again.

      Even now that I have big kids we do this — if someone addresses me disrespectfully, they have to practice saying it the “right” way. This insistence that we redo until we have done it correctly has caused them to stop and think before they do something — because they don’t want to have to practice. πŸ™‚

      I don’t know if I can give a 123 step plan because there is so much involved. At this age, I often fine children for certain things. Or I hand out chores. My extremely extroverted child has to go sit on his bed, by himself, and DO NOTHING — but that would be a reward for my extremely introverted child.

      As they have gotten older, the phrase “first time obedience” seem less appropriate. What I tell my teen is that he needs to communicate to me his intentions — so I might tell him he needs to go take out the garbage, but he might be in the middle of something, and I respect that. If he ignores me and keeps doing what he’s doing, that looks like disobedience, even if he intended to finish and then obey. I can’t know what’s going on in his head, so what we’re working on is him telling me aloud what he intends to do. If that makes sense.

      On the other hand, I have a child that would say she was going to do something, and then forget. So now her consequences are that when I tell her to, say, put up her laundry, she has to stop everything and do it right away because she has forgotten too many times.

  • Reply Brandy @ Afterthoughts April 30, 2011 at 11:13 pm

    Thanks, GL…and welcome to Afterthoughts! πŸ™‚

  • Reply Guiding Light April 30, 2011 at 10:40 pm

    EXCELLENT. Thank you for the reminders! I am now following your blog. Blessings!

  • Reply Brandy @ Afterthoughts February 6, 2011 at 7:18 am


    I am still training this in our two younger children! But I will tell you what I have learned from older and wiser women. None of this advice is really mine–it is what I’ve been taught. Here are things that come to mind:

    1. Have them practice resaying their statement in a “clear, strong voice” every time they whine. Some children need coaching, and practice makes perfect.

    2. We put younger children (under three, generally) in their cribs when they start whining. This sort of whining is usually a general attitude problem. They know that when they are done whining and have “found their smile” that they can come back.

    3. Discipline for whining. With our older children, we actually went through verses where we read that God doesn’t like grumbling, He prefers cheerful obedience, etc. and then we hold them to that standard. With the younger children, the discipline usually comes if they are not yielding to the coaching. Of course, some older children need that coaching first, also.

    4. Respond to their voices. This is the hardest for me because I tend to get lost in my thoughts and tune everything out. But children often start whining for the same reason adults start yelling–they don’t think anyone is listening to them.

    I hope that helps!

    For a lot of these issues, I have kept an eye out at my church for families that seem to have a handle on the issue, and then interrogated the mother until she gave me her secrets! πŸ™‚

  • Reply Naomi February 5, 2011 at 11:56 pm

    There are so many good habits to be taught – not to touch, stop when I say, come when I call, stay in your bed, etc., etc. But you quantified it all in one clear habit that is at the root of it all! This really helps me focus on what is important with my little one and helps me better communicate that to other Mommies who are also looking for answers. When you say ‘cheerful’, that obviously includes not whining – which is something I’m continually working on with my 3yo. Do you have any insight on how to train them out of whining? How do you get the cheerful part aside from not giving them what they want?

  • Reply Brandy @ Afterthoughts February 4, 2011 at 6:12 pm

    A kick in the pants for me, too, Dawn. It is amazing to me how quickly I can forget the things I have learned.

    KM, You are at a very hard point! Do you think he’d sleep in a sling so that you can accomplish both goals? I had one that did that and it was very handy.

    Pam, Thanks. πŸ™‚ I have one right now doing that, too. Actually, he is doing something I’ve never had before–being naughty for the sake of the reaction he gets from his audience (the other children, who laugh at his antics). Sometimes I have to go laugh before I dish out consequences!

  • Reply Pam... February 4, 2011 at 3:41 am

    Yay for Brandy, the brave women who dares to go places many people are afraid to go! You are so right. Smooth and easy days…freedom and joy come from weeding out those little foxes that spoil the vines. I currently have a little one pushing some buttons. (But he’s so cute…!) We call them attitude adjustments, and sometimes it’s the mom who needs one! (don’t you wish there were little adjustment knobs on us?) LOL!

  • Reply Kansas Mom February 3, 2011 at 10:40 pm

    Oh, how I struggle with this! I’ll be holding the baby while he naps when Second Daughter does something she should not and I have to decide…which is worse: letting her get away with it or waking the baby who then will not nap and will make the rest of the day miserable.

  • Reply dawn February 3, 2011 at 6:47 pm

    A much needed reminder (and kick in the pants) for me. Thanks, Brandy.

  • Reply Mystie February 3, 2011 at 6:34 pm

    Amen and amen!

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