Obedience: Why Do You Have To Tell Them Five Times?

5. They don’t feel heard, and they do feel pushed around. 

We can’t MAKE children obey, unless we’re willing to hurt their bodies and break their spirits. They have to WANT to cooperate. Luckily, our kids usually give us the benefit of the doubt and follow our rules, as long as they feel heard and like they have at least a little bit of control or choice. 


Acknowledge her perspective. If possible, give her a choice. 

“I hear you. You’re saying it loud and clear– NO BATH! You really don’t want to take a bath. I bet when you’re older you’ll NEVER take a bath, right?….And tonight you do need to get clean in the water. You have a choice. You can choose a bath or a shower or a sponge bath. Which sounds like the most fun?” 

Sometimes, hearing your child’s perspective might even convince you to compromise or change your position. That’s fine. Just explain your reasoning, so your child knows that it was his win/win solution that changed your mind, not his obstinacy. 

6. They feel disconnected from us. 

When kids don’t follow our lead, it’s often because they feel disconnected from us.

Why on earth would your child feel disconnected? Because he was away from you all day. Or you lost your temper at him this morning. Or he’s angry at you because you always have the baby on your lap.

Or you rely on timeouts and consequences for discipline, instead of connection. Or maybe just because he’s a little person in a big world, and that gets scary, and all those scary feelings get pushed down inside, where they block the child’s ability to lovingly connect. 


Constantly rebuild connection by empathising with your child’s experience, when you’re giving a directive and as often as you can. Be prepared for any upset feelings to surface once your child feels that warm connection more strongly, and stay compassionate through the resulting meltdown. After he’s had a chance to “show” you the upset that’s been weighing on him, your child will feel re-connected and cooperative. 

7. They’ve given up on us. 

Children naturally look to their parents for nurturing and guidance. If they’re convinced that we’re on their side, they want to please us. So if your child is defiant, or you keep finding yourself in power struggles, that’s a red flag that your relationship needs strengthening. 


Half an hour of special time, one-on-one, daily.

This seems so simple that most parents under-estimate the impact. But I have never seen special time fail to strengthen the parent-child relationship, which always helps children want to cooperate more. 

Laughter also bonds you with your child, and roughhousing is usually the easiest way to get laughter going. Every child needs belly laughs and giggling both morning and evening to stay connected. When a relationship feels tense, laughter is often the easiest way back to connection.  

8. They’re human. 

Force creates push-back. All humans resist control, and kids are no different. The more they feel “pushed around” the more strong-willed kids rebel, and the more compliant kids lose initiative and the ability to stand up for themselves.  


Choose your battles. Make sure your child knows you’re on her side and she has some choices. Coach your child rather than trying to control her. Listening to your child raises a person who can think for herself, stand up for what’s right, and isn’t likely to be taken advantage of. 

Discussions about whether kids are spoiled always indict parents for raising kids who aren’t obedient, as if obedience is the holy grail to which parents should aspire.

But don’t you want to raise a child who’s self-disciplined and WANTS to cooperate? That’s very different from obedience, where the discipline comes from outside the child.

As H.L. Mencken said, 

“Morality is doing what’s right no matter what you’re told. Obedience is doing what you’re told no matter what’s right.” 

The quote that opens this post is taken from an article that doesn’t mention any of these reasons why kids don’t do what they’re told. Instead, the author says that kids ignore parents because “Parents want their kids’ approval”  and “worry that we’re going to damage… kids by frustrating them.” This accusation surfaces in every discussion alleging that kids today are spoiled. But I just don’t buy it. The man who picked his eight-year-old up and put him in the bathroom wasn’t afraid to set a limit because he wanted his son’s approval. It looks to me like his son didn’t follow his directives because the dad didn’t follow through on his limit. He had trained his child to ignore him. And he most likely finished the evening with shouting or smacking, which decrease the child’s respect and connection, and therefore decrease future cooperation. 

Does setting empathic limits sound like a lot of work? It is, in the beginning. It would certainly be easier if kids would immediately comply with our every directive. But the good news is that following these practices consistently not only raises a self-disciplined child, it raises a child who knows you’ll follow through, so he doesn’t need to be asked five times to do something. Which makes it a whole lot easier to get him into the bathtub.  

Originally published here

Dr. Laura Markham is the founder of AhaParenting.com and author of Peaceful Parent, Happy KidsPeaceful Parent, Happy Siblings and her latest book, the Peaceful Parent, Happy Kids Workbook

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