Boys, Family, Fatherhood, Homemaking, Motherhood, Parenting

The Obedience Trifecta: Or the “Three-finger Strategy”


Lest you think by looking at the picture that this post is about the three Harry Potter children, it isn’t. I just thought the little fingers were cute, are they not?.

This post IS about fingers, though…..sort of.

When our children were young my husband and I really wanted to focus on their obedience.  We knew obedience would be key if we wanted a peaceful home.  We weren’t sure, being young ourselves and having four small children, how to carry out this goal.  To gain some wisdom on this I listened to cassette tapes (yes, I am that old) of the same name by Elisabeth Elliot which taught the importance of instilling obedience in your children:peaceful home lI listened to my “Peaceful Home” tapes over and over again.  They were a tremendous help.  Soon after I had all but memorized these tapes, I became aware of an additional component to obedience that I hadn’t heard before – for lack of a better description, I call it the Obedience Trifecta (OT).  This OT answered a concern we had (not from what we learned on the tapes, but with our own parenting style): we didn’t want our kids to just mindlessly obey like robots; we wanted them to obey well.  I can’t remember how I first heard about this trifecta (the author of the concept didn’t call it a “trifecta”, that was just my name for it).  The idea came from either reading a book or listening to a radio show.  (If anyone knows of its author/origin please let me know so I can give them credit.) The OT had three components: a child’s obedience must be 1. right away, 2. all the way, and 3. the happy way.  To help children remember this, the parent held up three fingers to remind their kids of these expectations.  I loved the idea and we decided to give it a try. Here is how the concept played out in our home.

In order for our children to have obeyed well:

1.  The task asked of them must be done right away.  Not later, not tomorrow, but now. Completing the task when they felt like it was not obedience; doing the task immediately was.  If they couldn’t carry out our request right away (maybe they were in the middle of helping their sibling with something or doing another chore) then they could “appeal”. They could say something like “Mommy, I will hang up my coat as you asked, but may I first finish helping Mary get a game off the shelf?”  or “Daddy, I will be right there, but I am in the bathroom.”

A response of, “Aww, do I have to come now?” didn’t cut it.

A response of “But why?!?” didn’t cut it.  I would hold up my three fingers to remind them why.

2. The task must be done all the way.  If we asked a child to put a toy away only to find it sitting on top of the toy box, or near the toy box, and not in the toy box where it belonged, then they had not obeyed.  They had only done the task part way. If that happened, they would have to stop whatever they were doing and go put the toy in its proper place.

3.  Finally, the task must be done the happy way.  If they responded immediately and did the chore completely yet sulked or stomped the entire time, then they were not being obedient.  If this was the case, we would undo the work they had done (got the toys back out, took the coat off the hook, spread the crayons out over the kitchen table, etc.) and have them to do the chore over again with a better attitude.  And sometimes over again. And again. And again.  And again (you get the idea). On more than one occasion a grumpy child had to put something away five or six times until they could do it without sulking.  Usually by the fifth time, the repetition became comical and my child and I would both end up laughing.

Why require so much from children for doing simple tasks?  Because our job as parents is to prepare our children to be responsible adults, and the best time to learn responsibility is when they are small.

When children become adults and employees, their manager or boss will expect them to do the tasks required of them in their job.   They will be a blessing to their employer if the tasks gets done well, promptly, and with a good attitude.  Imagine Little Johnny sitting next to his toy box and his mother politely asks him to put his toys away.  Little Johnny proceeds to shove the toys into one corner of the room, or maybe little Johnny tells his mother “no!”, or maybe little Johnny just ignores his mother and keeps on playing.  If Johnny’s lack of obedience never gets addressed, it will become a problem when he grows up. Imagine the Now Big Johnny, twenty years later, sitting behind a desk at his workplace.  His boss enters his office cubicle and asks him to redo a report.  If Little Johnny slacked off and did as he pleased as a kid, Big Johnny’s task of fixing a company file (especially if it’s going to take hours or days of work) will probably come with much complaining, whining, and dragging of feet.  On the other hand, if Big Johnny learned early on that, when asked to do a task, it should be done immediately, completely and cheerfully, then the task will be done well and he will be an asset to his employer – or pastor, military commander, professor, or whoever becomes an authority in his life.

So did our Obedience Trifecta strategy always go smoothly in our home?  No way.  Did we remember to use the idea 100% of the time?  No. Sometimes holding up those fingers all the time got old.  But we implemented the idea often enough that our kids got the gist of what we expected and it made our home more peaceful (well, most of the time!)  😛

Ephesians 6:1 says, Children obey your parents in the Lord for this is right (NIV).



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