Who’s In Charge Here?

bus seat
This seat shouldn’t be empty…

This afternoon a young boy about 6 and his mum got on my bus. He walked in front of her as they walked up the aisle. His mum came to a vacant seat just past the turntable and said ‘here’ to her son, to which he responded loudly ‘NO HERE!’ and kept walking to the back. His mum shook her head in annoyance, and with a huff meekly followed him to the back.

Hands up who sees a problem here.

Does it really matter, in this case, where they sit? No. But what does matter is that she issued an instruction, he ignored it and then she allowed his word to overrule here. So the issue is one of authority – who’s in charge, rather than simply a choice of seat.

Those in authority, such as a King or a President, aren’t necessarily in themselves physically stronger than those over whom they rule. They only hold that authority because:

  1. people respect them and their decisions and choose not to argue, or
  2. they have the backing of a greater physical force (e.g. the army) than the subordinates, and those in that force in turn respect the leader or fear the consequences of abusing their power.

From the reign of Roman Emperor Nerva ~AD96 until the fall of Marcus Aurelius ~AD180, the Roman Empire experienced a time of peace which the historian Gibbon describes as one of the happiest times to live in the Roman Empire. Emperors genuinely put the interests of their people first, while the people obeyed their directives, respected their decisions and the emperor’s authority by and large went unchallenged. But then the tone of the Roman Empire changed and the new Emperors began to abuse their power. The rules were made for themselves, not for the people, so they lost respect meaning their authority now depended on the loyalty of  Praetorian Guard – that elite band of soldiers who surrounded the emperor. They provided the military support to back up the Emperor’s decisions, and if the emperor’s will was ever challenged, the Praetorian Guard would step in and the miscreant would learn to respect the authority of the emperor (sadly with no opportunity to do better next time). So when the Praetorian Guard finally rebelled, the Emperor was left with no authority, was duly assassinated and the army became the kingmakers.

So what has all this to do with a naughty kid on a bus?

Children are constantly learning, and they will learn from whatever we do whether or not we want them to! The mother had taught her son to disobey her by allowing him to argue against her instructions and get his own way. Children by nature will try to push the boundaries – they will challenge authority and see whether the boundary is really there. When this happens parents need to be firm and ensure they make it clear the boundary is there and it’s not moving. In turn this will give the child security knowing what’s said is meant. If parents routinely allow children to overrule their instructions it teaches them you don’t mean what you say.

Parents need to establish their authority in the small things, so their word is respected. It may not seem like a big thing when a child argues back over a simple instruction like a seat on the bus or the colour of a cup they’re to use, but times will come when it’s critical you get first time obedience.

Source: Daily Mirror
Source: Daily Mirror

I heard a story about a father who was working on his roof. He went inside for a drink and when he returned outside he was met with a terrifying sight – his two year old boy had climbed the ladder and was now standing on the apex of the roof! Calmly he told the little boy to sit down, and the boy obeyed. His father was then able to climb the ladder and bring the little boy to safety. First time obedience possibly saved this boy’s life.

With what you’ve taught your kids, would they have obeyed you in that situation, or would they instinctively start playing fiddler on the roof?

How do I change this?

If you’ve not been doing so well in this, it’s not too late, especially if your kids are still young. Here are a few steps which may help:

  1. If they’re 2 or over, explain to your kids what’s going on. Tell them you are going to expect obedience and that there will be consequences if this doesn’t happen.
  2. Pre-plan some appropriate consequences so when battle day arrives you know what to do. These could include time out, loss of privileges e.g. computer time, a smack or some other consequence you think will help. Ensure consequences are ones you can deliver if they stand their ground (e.g. avoid things like “If you don’t sit down I’m going to throw you off the plane”!)
  3. Consider what is reasonable to expect of them. Requiring a child to clean up a pigsty of a room in 30 seconds is unreasonable and will only make them resent you.
  4. When battle day arrives and you’re challenged over a simple instruction, stick to your guns and implement appropriate consequences – they knew it was coming so there are no excuses.


Once your authority is established you may find there are time you need to vary your word. This is fine if it’s done occasionally and you don’t as a habit change your instructions. If you find it’s necessary to change a standing rule, it’s best to make this decision and inform them out of the heat of battle so it’s seen as a conscious intentional change on your part, not something which could be considered a capitulation under their opposition.


Be consistent with this and in time you’ll see a change in their respect for your word. They’ll still be kids so they’ll still test those boundaries from time to time but if each time they find the boundary is still there you’ll maintain their respect and they’ll maintain their security.

Finally, the Apostle Paul instructs us: “Children obey your parents in the LORD” Ephesians 6v1. He goes on, “And, ye fathers, provoke not your children to wrath: but bring them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord” v4. It’s a two-way street, so don’t expect respect if you abuse it.

The reward for this will be children who love and respect you and grow into adults who do the same. Life has boundaries and there are consequences if they step over them, and the sooner kids learn this the easier things will be for them.

2 thoughts on “Who’s In Charge Here?

  1. Thanks Greg for this informative post.

    I needed a refresher after being too tired to discipline properly lately (thanks to late nights with a newborn babe) – am only just getting some energy back now.
    Battles with our eldest were too exhausting to remain consistent and he has been getting away with a bit too much and now he sometimes thinks he runs things.
    Thanks to your post I am now armed with more resolve to reaffirm my parental authority and (gently but firmly) remind dear son what the boundaries are!

    1. Thanks for your comment Jadie. It’s definitely a challenging time with a newborn, but it sounds as though time is on your side to reset and start again so I hope it works out for you.

      Here’s another thing to consider as you approach this change; deep down your eldest will probably know he’s pushed the boundaries and gotten away with it and he probably knows why too. So if he’s about four or above it may be worth being upfront with him about these circumstances which have caused you to take your foot off the gas, that this wasn’t helpful for either of you, and that moving forward you’re going to expect compliance with the boundaries you set. While this won’t stop him trying again (expect it soon!), it’s likely to meet with a better response than, having unwittingly taught him it’s OK to cross the line, suddenly putting the boundaries back in place with no warning or explanation. Additionally, he will respect your honesty in the situation because he probably knows it’s true anyway.

      The only word of warning here is that, while I completely back the position you’re taking, make sure you are mentally prepared, well-slept (if that exists with a newborn!) and have the stamina to go through with it. The first few weeks WILL be tough on both of you while he re-learns the system and you re-learn to stand your ground, and if you don’t generally stick to your word this time round, future attempts to reset will be progressively less effective. Better to wait a week if necessary than jump in when you’re not quite ready.

      Best of luck, and God bless!


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