The little boy listened.
He nodded; he agreed with his mom. (Well, most of the time.)
He had his rambunctious moments, but he wasn’t particularly difficult. He wanted to be a leader.
He cared about what others thought.
He was a bit of a tenderhearted warrior, and all of that sounds very positive.
He was, pretty much, a compliant child.
Maybe I just described your boy–you know, the one who says, “Okay, Mom.” Oh, he has his occasional fits and tantrums, but on the average, this one is pretty obedient, conforming. The (relatively) easy son.
Hint #1 – Praise Him
It’s easy to forget to praise this one – after all, he’s the easy one. There seems to be no need for pats on the back or encouragement toward obedience. It’s so easy to overlook, but your compliant son needs praise.
It’s too easy to overlook that need because he’s usually conforming; maybe he’s the oldest son, or the leader. We tend to think it’s the rascal that needs encouragement for that rare moment of obedience – after all, we want to see it happen again, so we praise the rascal up and down. The one who always obeys sometimes doesn’t hear your “Thanks, honey” or “I like the way you did that,” because you expect that of him, however that doesn’t mean he doesn’t need it. It’s easy, too, for this son to feel unappreciated. Just because a child isn’t a troublemaker doesn’t mean he doesn’t need encouragement.
It’s easy to forget how different out sons are, how diverse their needs are. I teach high school English, and a parent once said to me, “My child thinks you don’t like him.” I was so surprised. He was a great kid – but a quiet one. I spent more time in the classroom with the rascals than I did with the good guy, but apparently he needed some bolstering. I had thought he was fine, but as soon I took the opportunity to build him up I saw the difference immediately.
A little encouragement goes a long way – and it never hurts!
Hint #2 – Show Him Your Love Isn’t Connected to His Performance.
He may be compliant, but he’ll mess up from time to time. Take it in stride, Mom. Help him work through it. This boy’s failure may disappoint him more than it does you, and he needs to talk about it and figure it out. Don’t assume this one always has everything figured out; chances are, he needs you more than you know.
Your unconditional love, even in the face of failure, will help prevent heartless compliance. If he’s compliant, he “gets” what pleases you. It’s easy to keep performing to get the reward of your approval; it can become a habit with no heart behind it. Your love takes on meaning for him when it sticks through thick and thin, and when he sees that, he’ll want to act out of love – not just duty or obligation.
Hint #3 – Remind Him That the Ground is Level at the Foot of the Cross.
As one of my “easy” sons reached young adulthood, he told me that it was easy to think a lot of himself when he was a kid; after all, he was the “good” kid who followed the rules. He almost fooled himself into thinking God’s kingdom was about his own goodness.
Help your son remember that we’re all in the same boat—sinners in need of a Savior, regardless of our performance. Don’t let him label himself the good son and his brother the bad one; let him learn from you, Mom. It may not be easy, but when we, as moms admit our flaws, ask forgiveness when we have failed, and strive to love our boys unconditionally we move them toward hope in One who is bigger than both of us.
Take a little extra time with that compliant son today. His eyes will light up and, most of all, his heart will know love that’s connected not to performance, but to Christ.
A few resources to help:
Do You Love Me? A book about grace for kids from 4 to 8 years old.
The Agreeable Child – a post with some wisdom for dealing with compliant ones
Strong-Willed Children vs. Compliant Children – an article by James Dobson
Laura Lee Groves is the mother of four sons and the author of I’m Outnumbered! One Mom’s Lessons in the Lively Art of Raising Boys, in addition to Pearl, a novel about international adoption.