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care-enough-about-instructionsProverbs 19:16 says “He who obeys instructions guards his life, but he who is contemptuous of his ways will die.” Following instructions is important to God—In fact, it’s a matter of life and death.

So why do parents invest so little in developing an effective instruction routine? From my own experience, it’s because we get busy and simply hope for the best.

A faulty routine looks like this: the parent gives an instruction, then gets busy and forgets about it. Remembering later, the parent checks on the child to find that nothing has been done. The parent speaks a little louder or with a threat like, “I’m not going to ask you again to…” or “How many times do I have to ask you to…?”

The parent goes away and doesn’t follow through, and the child waits for another cue. Children play a delay game until they finally observe a cue that causes them to think “Mom’s really serious now, so I better move!” Sometimes that cue is the redness in mom’s face, the veins popping out on dad’s neck or the anger in their voices. This routine sends the message that nothing need happen until a parent gets angry.

Scott Turansky and Joanne Miller from the National Center for Biblical Parenting advise parents to use a “tight action point.” A tight action point means that you act quickly to require your child to follow through with an instruction. In an effective instruction routine, there are five steps for parents and five for children. These are taught in a wonderful seminar authored by Turansky and Miller.*

One of the steps is simple: have your child answer back. Requiring this answer immediately upon giving an instruction sends the cue that you mean now, plus it helps avoid the “I didn’t hear you” ploy later.

When you give an instruction, teach your child to say ‘yes Mom’ or ‘yes Dad.’ You may prefer ‘Yes Ma’am/Yes Sir.’ If you have a child who is prone to forget what you said or has trouble focusing, have them repeat your instruction to you. You might say “Maria, tell me what I just told you to do.”

By having your child answer back you also have a chance to gauge their heart’s intention by their response. A child who won’t answer back (after being taught to do so) may need a lesson about respect or responsibility. That child might be angry or sullen.

Body language like rolling the eyes or stomping of feet indicates a disrespectful heart. It’s best to identify and address a wrong attitude right then.

A faulty instruction routine often leads to harshness on your part, encourages disobedience, and builds frustration in both you and your child. A clear, gentle, but firm instruction routine with prompt follow-through creates a peaceful home and teaches your child to respect your words.

Article written by Dr. Jim Dempsey

*Learn more about this seminar at

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