The Secret to Prompt Obedience

effective discipline

How often have you told your son to get ready for bed and then had to say it again and again before he started to move? Or, how often have you told your daughter to pick up her toys and then found them still spread out all over? Sometimes parents get attached to the ways they relate to their children, even when those ways are part of the problem. So targeting that behavior is where the secret to prompt obedience and effective discipline can be found.

You need to have a tight action point. An action point is the point when you stop talking and start acting or the point when children know you mean business. You already have an action point and your children know what it is. By making small adjustments in your action point, you can bring about significant changes in your home. If you apply a tight action point in your family, you will see immediate results. It will train your children to obey more quickly. It will bring an immediate change in your child’s behavior.

Here’s how action points are the secret to prompt obedience.

An action point is a cue you give your children that signals you’ve had enough. Sometimes you get out of the chair. Maybe your raise the pitch or volume of your voice or you use their middle name. An action point tells children when they must obey and they know they don’t have to obey until you get there. Your children learn how to play you. They know your action point. They know when they need to obey.

There are four important things to remember about your action point:

  1. An action point teaches children when they must obey.
  2. Action points vary among people who discipline.
  3. Children learn to respond to each person’s action point.
  4. Being consistent with a tight action point is hard work, but it is worth it in the end.

For many parents, anger is the motivation for their action point. A raised voice is a typical indicator that action is imminent. Anger, however, can be a destructive emotion, causing more damage than good to the relationship. When you get angry with your children’s lack of responsiveness to your instruction, you would do well to use that anger as a flag to remind yourself that your action point is not tight enough.

An action point determines the rules of the game for both the parent and the child. If you try to change your action point without an explanation, your children may feel hurt and resentful. Although you have never clarified it before, you have taught your children to respond the way they do. If you’re going to change the rules, it will be helpful to explain to your children what you’re doing. Explain that you have been wrong in teaching them to respond slowly. From now on, you’re going to ask them once, then comes the action. In this way, they’ll develop the character quality of obedience.

Practice is important. Give children opportunities to obey as they’re learning the new action point. Practice in places and at times when you can work through the process. In our seminars, we’re often asked the grocery store question: “What if my child acts up in the grocery store, what should I do?” Action point is a skill that needs to be practiced, but it’s best to practice in safe, easy places. The grocery store is like the final exam.

Children will occasionally test the action point to see if it’s still there. Don’t disappoint them. Firm boundaries provide security for children. Beyond that, offer much praise to the child who responds. It’s very important to catch children doing the right thing. Not only do you want to affirm behavior, but you want to encourage the character development that you observe. Use words like, “You are becoming very obedient. I like the way you are learning to obey.” Praise goes a long way to building good habits. {Tweet This}

It takes work, but if parents tighten their action point, then children obey more quickly. When parents realize that children need to learn obedience and that they, as parents, are the ones to teach it, then the individual acts of disobedience become very important opportunities. When you understand that teaching obedience is an important part of your role as a parent, you’ll be more motivated to keep a tight action point.

Obedience brings life and freedom. When children learn to obey, they are the beneficiaries. Taking the time to teach obedience is in your child’s best interest.

So what’s your action point with your children?


  • turmanzoo

    Great article and perfect timing for me. Can you give examples or suggestions of good ‘ action ‘ after asking once and being ignored or disobeyed. I struggle most with finding appropriate or good consequences and rewards.

  • Julie

    I agree with turmanzoo. Definitely struggle with appropriate or natural consequences. Some things naturally lend themselves to that…you play with your water cup at dinner, you don’t get to have a water cup anymore. However, other things are much harder. Any suggestions would be great…we have a 3 and 2 year old.

  • Rbrooks55

    this article is so relevant to me right now, thank you!
    I tend to do the 1, 2, 3…business and my kids take it to the limit. I will be instituting the one time deal asap!
    Action points I find vary on 1. My mood and exhaustion levels, 2. Severity of behaviours, 3. Location.
    I would love some suggestions of good, neutral action points that I could use in different circumstances. Have you an article I could refer to? Or perhaps could you write a follow up to this?
    Thank you for all of your advice and support!

  • Jhansen1014

    Examples of action points would be very helpful thank you 🙂

  • Karen

    I’d love suggestions for enforcing bedtimes for my 8 and 11 year olds. For clothes that were left on the floor, I tried requiring a chore before they get them back, but that didn’t seem to be effective…

    • Emily

      For every minute they go to bed late or get back out of bed, they go to bed 5 min early the next night. But both parents need to be on board.

      • Mrs. S.

        This works great; Emily – you are so right about both parents having to be on board, it’s a complete disaster otherwise.

  • Mrs. S.

    To get ‘stuff’ picked up in our house [whether it be clothing, toys, books . . . .] we have the following policy for our 5 year old son and 6 year old daughter: you are asked ONE time to pick your things up [they understand this to mean that it doesn’t just get picked up off the floor and dumped on top of a dresser, bed or kitchen table – stuff needs to be where it belongs!]; if it’s not taken care of, then Mom and Dad will take this to mean that you have too much stuff and it’s time for some of it to go [as in whatever wasn’t picked up]. This has put an end to whining, debates, complaining, arguments, etc. . . I am specific about when I expect it done, as in: right now, 5-10 minutes, before you can go out and play, before we eat . . . . When we started doing this at ages 4 & 5, we worked them into it over about a 5 or 6 day period: asking them one time to pick up, observing their response/or lack of, reminding them what the consequence is for not obeying [“if you can’t or aren’t willing to pick up, then you’ve got too much stuff and it’s time for it to go”]; and then the hardest part – following through! – you must be willing to do this or do not take this approach with your kids. By the third or fourth day of ‘training’ they were ready to test me; I managed to pick up two boxes worth of toys while the kids scrambled around the house picking up as fast as they could because they were heart broken that their stuff would be gone. Because it was training season, the boxes I packed were held for two days and then given back – they clearly understood that this would not happen again – it would be gone. In almost two years, we have only had to pack up and send out one time. One of the hidden blessings I received in being consistent with this idea is my kids now come to me and are letting me know that they have to many toys, clothes etc., and we should go through their stuff so it can go to kids who need it.

    • Emily

      Thank you Mrs. S. This is s big deal at our house and I’ve said and not followed through. It is so interesting that WE teach them how serious we are about them obeying right away. This is a struggle and other families see it. Which is saddening! When you are serious about obedience you come off harsh, but the pay off is so great if I stick to my “guns”.

      • Mrs. S.

        Hi Emily – when I stick to my guns I find that I come across harsh less often because the kids already know the consequence – I can pick up whatever it is and do it calmly – when the grown-ups mean what they say and say what they mean, the kids will likely learn to do that also. James 5:12 is a verse that is regularly quoted by me – ” . .let your yes be yes, and your no, no . .” , when the kids get tired of it I’ll use Matthew 5:37 {it says the same thing!} the reality is that quoting God’s Word [and then promptly being quiet] allows no room for arguing or complaining. Stick to your guns!

    • Melissa Piloto-Southwell

      thank for for sharing your “if you don’t pick up your toys” example….I am looking for appropriate follow throughs for other areas like: when I ask you once to get dressed for school, or ask you once to go brush your teeth before bed.” Any suggestions out there as to how to react when they don’t obey after being asked once.??

      • Mrs. S.

        Hi Melissa – our best ‘reaction’ is to remain calm and speak quietly but firmly, I do my best to not let my kids push my buttons – lots of practice! YOU know your kids better than anyone – watch them, see what matters most to them and you’ll find some motivation for them to be obedient. And for those kids who seem to have nothing that motivates them – PRAY for the Holy Spirit to show you what will be effective! Remind your children that God says that children are to obey their parents – you’re not just making stuff up! You’ve listed things that every mother has had to deal with 🙂 brushing teeth before bed: when you are obedient and brush your teeth when asked, not only are you taking care of the body that God has given you, we have time to read a story before bed – not obedient – no story; a parent must stand in the bathroom with you until you become the big kid I know that you are and can do this by yourself; and perhaps no ‘sugary sweets’ for the next day . . . Getting dressed for school/church – wherever: I know this sounds outrageous, but it has been the only thing that has worked with all four of our children; the child is asked to get dressed and a timer is set, however they are dressed – that’s how we are leaving the house – you will be at church/grocery store/ school bus etc. in whatever you have on at that moment – my kids only had to scramble once or twice for a shirt/socks/shoes as we’re headed out the door – they knew I meant it and I would not be embarrassed by their disobedience – I have made a huge effort of not saying: “if you’re not dressed, you can’t come along to the ______, because then I would be putting the power in the hands of my child and let them decide if it was worth it or not for them to bother – I would be teaching them the wrong lesson.
        I was given the book “The Passionate Mom”, by Susan Merrill, as a gift this past February – I was so moved by it that I purchased 10 copies to hand out to other mom friends; it’s made such an impact that in September I purchased 10 more books and am handing them out to encourage even more moms – we’ve even started Bible studies with moms using this book – it’s been an amazing and encourage time – I strongly encourage you to get a copy for yourself – you won’t regret it.

  • tabatha van meter

    I too., would love examples. Also, what do we do after we have done said action point and they still do not obey?

  • Melanie

    Does anyone have good action points for dealing with sibling bickering/unkindness? It’s not huge things, but it’s just so constant. It wears on me majorly, and I can’t seem to come up with things that help. (Only child here… parenting sibilings is so hard for ones who never had any! 🙂 )