A couple of weeks ago, I got an email from one of our church staff members who works in the day school that our youngest son attends three days each week. She was writing to ask me about the “three-point behavioral system” we use with our kids and that Kory referenced in one of his recent sermons. She couldn’t recall the phrase, and she wanted to share it with the teachers at the school. (Or maybe, she needed to use it on our son, and she didn’t have the heart to tell me! Ignorance is bless, I tell ya!)
It’s not the first time I’ve gotten this question from someone who’s either heard Kory share this phrase in a sermon or who has witnessed us use it with one of our kids, so I thought I would share it here. We learned it in the second parenting class we took as young parents, Preparation for the Toddler Years, written by Gary and Anne Marie Ezzo, and it’s proven to be one of the very best tools we’ve been given as parents. My hope is that, through this post, it might bless another family with young children in the same way that it’s blessed us.
The principle is called “First Time Obedience.” That is, when training our children, we can expect them to obey our instructions the first time they are given.
And to help us train our children to First Time Obedience as little ones, we were taught to use this phrase:
“Right Away. All the Way. And in a Happy Way.”
But let me be more specific.
First, we expect our children to obey our instructions Right Away. That means immediately. Not when we count to three. Not when it’s convenient for them. And not in five minutes when they feel like it or after they’ve been threatened with a consequence. (We also expect them to come to us when we call their names, and we expect an oral response such as “coming mom.” Right now, our littlest one is taking me to task on this component of First Time Obedience by saying, “I’m not here!” when I call his name. Ugh. There’s always a new challenge presented in parenting!)
Second, we expect our kids to obey us All the Way. That means exactly as we instructed. Without modification based on their own preferences. And with good effort (but not perfection).
And third, we expect our kids to obey us in a Happy Way. That means without huffing. Without puffing. Without negotiation. And without complaint.
We found that using this phrase when they were young was really helpful because it’s catchy and it rhymes. This made it easy for our kids to memorize and recite it at a very early age. And when we taught it to each of our children, we counted to three using our fingers as we recited the three points. The symbol for the number “three” became a symbol for our expectations regarding obedience, and we could use it from across a room without saying a word. And it worked…most of the time.
No doubt we’re in the throws of training our littlest one regarding First Time Obedience. And right now, at his ripe old age of three, we are struggling mostly with the “Right Away” component. But we’re working on it. Thankfully, we have two other children who, for the most part, have this aspect of First Time Obedience down, and they serve as great reminders that our hard work will eventually pay off! Someday.
As our two oldest have grown, we’ve found using the phrase “Right Away, All the Way, and in a Happy Way” is helpful in a different way than when they were pre-schoolers. Because as they’ve grown, when they are disobedient, it has become more subtle. Usually, it’s less about whether they do what we ask (because usually they do obey the first time) and more about how they carry out our instructions. I’m sure none of you know what I’m talking about!
Are they rolling their eyes? (Sigh.) Did they slam a door? (Gasp!) Are they negotiating with us like we’re engaged in a real estate transaction? (Seriously?) Or are they downright arguing with us? (Who do they think they are? Lawyers?) The three point phrase allows us to break down their responses to our instruction, and it helps us to identify the root of the problem we’re dealing with so that our consequences can be appropriately tailored to deal with that particular issue rather than something else. (Some of the Bible stories we’ve used with our kids to break down the standard of Biblical obedience are 1 Samuel 3:1-10, which I referenced in a different context here, and the story of Jonah.)
But First Time Obedience is useful beyond child training too. It’s an excellent standard to set for ourselves, isn’t it? Because Biblical obedience is done Right Away, All the Way, and in a Happy Way. Whether we are 3, 33, or 103. And that’s the context in which Kory has shared it in his sermons.
Do we struggle to obey God’s word Right Away? Do we struggle to obey God’s word All the Way? Or do we struggle to obey God’s word in a Happy Way?
I’ll go first.
I’m a rule follower by nature. And, sad to say, I’m somewhat of a legalist too. So I usually do what I’m supposed to do, and generally speaking, I do it fairly quickly after acknowledging that it’s the right thing to do. But as I shared here a few weeks ago, I (a/k/a Ursula the Sea Witch) don’t always do it in a Happy Way. That’s where I struggle the most. And that’s where God continues to work on me…thank goodness.
How about you?
“Do everything without complaining and arguing.”