The Power of Definitions

definition_defineWhat does obedience mean in your household? Can each person in your family give a clear definition of what it looks like to be obedient?

There is power in definitions. A shared vocabulary helps everyone to be on the same page and brings a certain clarity and peace to family life.

In our homes, obedience means, “immediately, cheerfully and thoroughly.”

Ted Cruz 2016


When each of our kids were little, we spent a good amount of time defining the three attributes of obedience. Most of them understood “immediately” right off the bat, but “cheerfully” and “thoroughly” took some time.

Over the years, as we have shared this definition with other parents, “cheerfully” seems to have inspired the most raised eyebrows. “Kids can’t always be expected to be cheerful, can they?”

When it comes to obedience, perhaps they can. In this case, attitude is a choice, and there is reason for kids to be enthusiastic because most parents are inclined to praise (and sometimes even reward) cheerful obedience.

Woodrow Wilcox


“Thoroughly” can be a tricky one. Some kids seem to come pre-wired with a dominant thoroughness gene, and others…don’t. We call them 80-percenters – they always seem to think they are finished about 80-percent through the job.

It does take some effort to teach the “thorough” part of obedience, because it means parents have to be willing to follow-up (often again and again) until the job is 100-percent done. But we can not expect what we are not willing to inspect. The good news is that over time, our kids will learn to strive for excellence in all they do.

When we catch our kids slipping in one area of obedience, parents can ask, “What is the definition of obedience?” Instantly, the child will know what needs to be adjusted. That is the power of a definition!

Another set of helpful definitions are for “honor” and “respect.” Kids like straight forward, easy to understand words. So for “honor,” we like to say that it means “lifting up another person.” Letting someone go before you in line is a form of honoring the person. Giving someone a genuine compliment is showing honor.

On the flip-side, dishonor is pushing someone down. So when a sibling says something hurtful or tries to intentionally discredit another sibling, they are dishonoring the person.

Respect, on the other hand, is all about giving someone or something the attention it deserves. When kids pay attention to what mom is saying, they are showing respect. When a child borrows something and pays close attention to how they care for it, they are respecting another person’s belongings.

Raising their hand in class and waiting patiently to be called upon is a way of paying attention to class etiquette and therefore showing respect for the teacher and their peers.

When everyone in the family has the same understanding of certain definitions, expectations are clear and parents can peacefully guide their kids toward good choices.

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Jenni Stahlmann and Jody Hagaman are super moms with nine children between them, from an attorney to a toddler, and one on the autism spectrum. Together they host Parenting On Purpose with Jenni and Jody, a one-hour weekly talk radio show. They are parenting experts and leaders in the homeschool community, as well as weekly newspaper columnists and freelance writers.
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