Understanding Three Levels of Obedience for a Three-Year-Old
Sometimes when I am working on computer, I feel like a three-year-old. At least, I think I feel like a three-year-old. I try to do some function that I haven't done in a while, and I look at computer screen wondering how I did it. When I am utterly confused, I'll phone one of my daughters and ask, "How do I…?" Fortunately for me, they always laugh and say, "Oh, Momma!"
What does this have to do with a three-year old? A three-year-old is having new experiences, learning new skills and working on self-mastery of those skills, just like I do on computer. Some days they can do something on their own, and other days they need assistance. This is because learning occurs in three stages, as follows:
At first stage, we can do an activity with assistance. At second stage, we can do an activity when we are asked to do it. At third stage, we can do activity independently and are fully aware of when it needs to be done.
In example of my computer skills, trying to learn how to double-line format was a challenge. The first time, I had to be shown series of steps. First stage. Then I could do it when someone reminded me of steps. Second stage. I am proud to report that I can now do it with no assistance and no reminders. Third stage, or independence.
As we learn new skills, we go back and forth between stages one and two. What leads us to independence is repeating activity with additional instruction. This independence allows us to obey a command or request.
Obey. We tend to think that it means, "to carry out a command without question." The word obey comes from Latin oboediere, meaning "to listen or to hear." To obey, we listen and then make a choice to follow command. If we hear a command from someone we trust, we will usually choose to carry out command, if we know how to do it and have no conflicting information. We can also follow a command out of fear. To casual observer it might appear in both instances that command has been followed without question.
For participants in an activity, command giver/command follower, teacher/student or parent/child, dynamics of fear and trust create a relationship. To build a relationship based on trust, it is critical to understand skills necessary to accomplish a command.
Most three-year-olds have a strong desire to please adults in their lives and are willing to do what we ask. What children lack are experience and skill. We can look at their ability to obey or level of obedience in this way:
First Level: will | no experience | no skill Second Level: will | experience | no skill Third Level: will | experience | skill
In a trusting relationship, child is eager to learn new activities. Remembering all steps in an activity is difficult, and children need to be shown many times. Because they are keen to learn, children are always watching others, which is a reason to be a good example.
To master a skill, children need to repeat an activity perhaps hundreds of times. Children need opportunity to do activities uninterrupted with freedom to make mistakes without being corrected during activity. The exception to this is when there is immediate danger to child or property. Observing a child's "mistakes" and "messes" gives us a clue of what needs to be retaught. Also, being interrupted or not being allowed to finish an activity can be cause of frustration that may be expressed as a temper tantrum.