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Your Authority Voice

October 15, 2003

Do you have an authority voice? How is it different from your regular voice? What are your children hearing? Do you command respect when you give orders, or do you whine out your “requests”? Does your child know when she is hearing an ultimatum?

Just yesterday I spent some time with a young couple and their first child, a sweet little girl about one year old. She is cheerful and exceptional in her attitude and self-control, very pleasant to have around—most of the time. But she has just one noticeable flaw in the area of self-will. She cries when she is put down to sleep at night or when they put her in a car seat and ignore her. As long as her parents are entertaining her, she will tolerate the car seat, but she refuses to accept a state of boredom. When they cross her self-interests in this one area, they reach the threshold at which she is no longer willing to yield her will to authority.

But when she gets sleepy, she hates to leave all the excitement and good company for the boring land of slumber. And she will not sit peacefully in a car seat unless someone is entertaining her constantly. She cries pitifully, and when that does not get a response, she puts energy into it. Her screams are a protest: “How dare these adults ignore my needs!” She is angry and demanding in her crying.

These little tots cast a spell of worship and delight over some parents, and they draw out our best and most sentimental feelings. It sometimes takes several months for infants to discover that they can manipulate these wonderful providers of pleasure. At first they may just whine a little, then they cry, and finally they discover the power of a scream—accompanied by the body language of defiance.

It slips up on us, very subtly. For months they are just angels to bless us with their appreciative smiles, coos, and grunts. At around six months, when they first start making little demands with slight displays of unhappiness, we are delighted that they can communicate their needs, and we find satisfaction in serving them. Then, one day when they are about nine to twelve months old, we are “made” to realize that our child has grown obnoxious and unpleasant. If we don’t turn this around soon, by the time they are two or three they will be little terrorists. And by the time they are four, they will be accomplished dictators. It won’t be long, perhaps at five or six, before they will be feared assassins extraordinaire, running protection rackets or worse.

If you know where this is headed, you can stay ahead of the curve. You can train them before the need to discipline arises. Otherwise, you spend your parental tour-of-duty reacting and doing damage control. If you are not a trainer, you must eventually become a security guard, judge, warden, psychologist, or an aberrant behavior specialist, and possibly an expert at restraint and self-defense maneuvers. Some people say they don’t have the time to train. You don’t have the time to not train.

When this little girl is in her car seat, Mother is constantly entertaining her. She turns around and talks to the child continually in an apologetic and consoling tone. To hear the mother, you would think the child was unjustly suffering and deserved an apology. And that is exactly what the little girl thinks. The moment Mother stops entertaining, the child wails. Mother lovingly pleads with her to be content, but she never commands. Sweet Mother does not have a sergeant’s voice. She will have to develop one if she is going to stay in control.

Tone is more important than words. Before children can talk, tone is all that matters. Even animals can identify your authority voice. I can speak to my dog in my kind, scratch-your-head tone, saying, “Tell me you are a good dog so I don’t have to shoot you,” and he just wags his tail as though I had told him, “I just killed a deer and you are going to get the leftovers.” I have actually done this. I can scream at him in my tough, you-just-ate-the-last-chicken voice, “You are such a good dog, I am going to buy fifty chickens and feed you one every day,” and he will tuck his tail and run for the ridge back of the house. He doesn’t understand my words, but he knows my tone as well as you would.

Have you ever noticed that a liar can speak with authority on a subject that you know more about than he does and yet you can end up doubting your firsthand knowledge simply because he is so sure of himself? Whereas, a person who has firsthand knowledge, but is doubtful of himself, cannot convince a man standing neck deep in water that there is danger of a flood. A voice of authority will get you service in a bank, it will get you elected to office, it will cause a country to raise taxes or cut taxes or go to war. A voice of authority will cause a violent attacker to flee. It can even make you rich.

On the other hand, a voice of pleading, whining, pity, tenderness, and sympathy will cause a clerk at Wal-Mart to ignore you and refuse your returned item. It will cause your husband to pity you or despise you and then look for company elsewhere. It will cause your wife to feel insecure and go back to school to learn a vocation. Your unauthoritative voice will cause a child to feel insecure and take charge of the family. Children learn early to manipulate the timid and uncertain adults.

It is impossible to write something of this nature and make it applicable to everyone. People range from one extreme to the other. Some are too harsh. Others are too sweet. Some are too legalistic. Others are too promiscuous. Some parents are too insensitive, while others are too sensitive. Some spank too hard or too often. Others don’t spank enough, or they don’t spank hard enough. As to our present subject—the voice of authority - some are too stern in their commands, some too loud, some too confrontational, some too threatening, and some just downright hateful. Then there are those who are too gentle, too apologetic, too emotionally weak, sensitive and tender. When a writer or speaker addresses one side of the spectrum, the other side is likely to find justification for their extreme. So, understand me in context when I say this mother is too compassionate and sympathetic in her voice projection when she commands her child. She doesn’t have an “authority voice.”

You need to develop a tone that is reserved for that special judicial ruling that says, “This is not open for discussion and there is no alternative; you will obey, now!” The tone of that voice and the accompanying body language should communicate: “I know what I am about; I will not be dissuaded; You will obey me; I have no pity; I don’t care what you think; So what! I am the boss; This is final.” There is no place for anger in your tone. Anger drains out all your authority and makes you appear weak and desperate. Angry people can be cajoled and mollified, turned and controlled, because they are led by their emotions instead of their convictions. Just as there is no place for anger, there is no place for pity or sympathy when giving a command. You need a command voice that is like the voice of God from Mount Sinai. It should be feared and respected. Your children should know by that Sinai tone that you have stopped making suggestions and have taken the high ground. They should freeze in their tracks, and all resistance should melt. If you don’t have an authority voice, you are not properly armed to be the leader of your home. Children are happiest and most content and secure, when there is a Sinai voice reigning in their home.

This sweet little mother we observed needs - as does her little one-year-old daughter - a voice of authority that will not tolerate second-guessing. When that voice speaks, all who hear it know that a decision has been made and there will be no pity or consoling. That voice is the final word on any subject.

You may say, “But I don’t have that kind of a voice.” That voice could be nothing more than a cricket’s chirp if it is consistently backed up by the hand of authority. The voice represents the hand of enforcement. When the hand of enforcement always accompanies the voice, the voice soon carries all the authority of the hand. When you demonstrate that the Sinai voice is always supported with the act of force, not just the threat, the children will respect it just as you respect heights. The law of gravity never sleeps. Consequently you always respect it. I didn’t have to spank my children for violating the law of gravity. After one or two falls they became very consistent in their allegiance to its rule. If the law of gravity only worked 90% of the time, there would be thousands killed every day. The consistency of the law of gravity makes it a most respected rule. I am now 58 years of age, and have obeyed it all my life. I fear it. I respect it. I will never disobey it.

The fear of God is the beginning of wisdom (Ps 111:10) and knowledge (Prov. 1:7). It makes one of quick understanding (Is. 11:3), will prolong your days (Prov. 10:27), and gives confidence (Prov. 14:26). It is a fountain of life (Prov. 14:27), and by it men depart from evil (Prov. 16:6). It tends to life (Prov. 19:23), brings riches and honor (Prov. 22:4), and is clean and endures forever (Ps. 19:9).

Children who have a clean, confident, lively fear of their parents have the most sanctifying fountain-of-life gift that any child has ever been given. Your command voice is your God-given carrier of that fear, designed by him to garner respect.

As I said earlier, people are scattered out along the spectrum between extremes. Some morbid idiot will take what I have said and use it to bolster his position as chief tormentor of his little hellish kingdom. His kids will cower in the corner as their eyes betray their distrust for all authority - their fear of breathing wrong. He who imparts that kind of fear has no fear himself, or he would give his children away.

But you, dear mother, who are not in danger of imparting that kind of fear, must strive to develop your authority voice. I suggest that you only use it when you are prepared to stand behind your command without wavering or delaying. The kids will learn to recognize it, and where they may not respect you otherwise, they will learn to hear from Sinai with godly fear. Without Mount Sinai, there can be no appreciation for Mount Calvary.

So, sweet young mother, the next time you put your sweet little girl in the car seat or down to sleep, if she cries, don’t look or sound broken-hearted. Don’t reassure her. Don’t entertain her. Ignore her crying, or give her one or two little spats on her leg, and in a firm voice, say, “No, you will sit; stay put!” When she is convinced that your no always means no, she will respect your command and accept it as final. She will be happier, and you will be in a position to deal with the more serious issues that will come up when she is sixteen.

Michael Pearl

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