Do you struggle to get your kids to listen to you? Do you find yourself using punishment or yelling to discipline your children when they don’t do what you ask?
When you’ve asked your child to do something “one million times!!!” it can be SO triggering. We are often feeling flustered at this point. We are on a schedule and need to get going, or we are just annoyed because our children don’t notice the thing we want them to do that WE value. This often leads us to yell or punish our children because we don’t know how to get them to obey us and do what we ask.
This makes sense. Obedience has been seen as the goal of child rearing for many years. These values and views are often deeply ingrained in our society and how we view our kids.
Compliance vs. Listening
So often, when parents say their kids don’t listen, what they are really saying is their kids don’t comply. These are two very different things.
Compliance means our children do what we say.
Listening means our children hear what we say.
It’s not a child’s job to comply with our every request.
Let’s shift our perspective on obedience.
Compliance is the goal of parenthood: “You get what you get, and you don’t get upset.” Your child’s obedience is a reflection of whether you are a good or bad parent.
When kids question the adults in their lives, it helps them find their voice and learn the WHY behind the expectations. Your child’s behaviour is not your report card, and obedience is not the goal. Raising reflective and assertive children is powerful. This new perspective encourages children to get curious and ask questions about our demands. If we expect instant compliance in our children, we are not setting them up for success in the real world.
Raising children willing to ask questions helps them
By raising children who are willing to ask questions, we are helping them:
- Find their own confidence
- Protect themselves against abuse
- Understand why we set certain rules and expectations
- Find their assertive voice
It can feel frustrating when children don’t do what we ask. Still, it’s important to remember that although our demands are coming from a place of unconditional love and safety, there are people in the world who may try to demand things from our children that aren’t loving and safe.
By raising our children to be confident and ask questions when demands are placed on them, we are setting them up for success for the future when they run into people who might be trying to cause harm to them. This is why instant compliance and obedience shouldn’t be the goal of parenting. Instead, we should focus on raising our children to be confident and assertive. We can help them understand why we set certain rules and expectations for them and teach them that it’s ok to be curious and ask questions when we don’t want to do something that is demanded of us.
Help kids understand the WHY behind our demands
My daughter saw some children’s Advil I had set aside for my youngest baby the other day. She’s teething, and I thought she might need it in the middle of the night. My daughter thought it might be a yummy snack for herself, and before I knew it, she was about to consume it!
“Stop! I can’t let you have that.”
She put it down, but I found her with it again a few minutes later. “I thought I said no….” I said to her.
“But mom, why is it ok for my sister to have it but not for me?”
I was busy and out of my mouth came: “Because I said so!”
I watched as confusion spread across my 4.5-year old’s face; she didn’t get it. I took a moment to compose myself, got on her level, and explained why it wasn’t ok for her to have the Advil.
I want her to ask me questions. I want her to question authority. I’m a good authority figure asking her to do things, but maybe someday there will be a lousy boss or teacher, and I want her to know her questions matter. I want her to know that there’s a reason behind the demands or requests given to her.
I find the longer we go on this journey and the more curiosity we allow, the more she’s likely to listen to what we have to say – because she knows there’s a reason.
“But sometimes they just need to listen!”
I hear this every time I discuss compliance not being the goal of parenting. There will always be moments when you just need to get your child out the door to school or transition from playing to the dinner table.
How to handle moments when you need obedience
Join your child’s world
Taking as little as 30 seconds to join into your child’s world before placing a demand will help you gain their attention and interest and make it much more likely that they will genuinely listen to your request.
For example: If your child is playing with blocks on the floor, before you ask them to clean up their toys and get ready to go to school, get down on their level, and play with them for a minute. While you are playing, you could say:
“Hey, buddy! It’s so much fun playing blocks with you! We do need to get ready for school now; maybe we can keep playing blocks when you get home this afternoon!”
If your child has a hard time listening and doesn’t want to do what you ask, offering them a choice can make it easier to avoid power struggles. “It’s almost time to get ready for school. Do you want me to set a timer for 2 or 3 more minutes”? Offering structured choices where both options will work can give children a sense of power and autonomy over the situation, and they will be more likely to comply with your demand.
Give them notice
If there is a transition or demand that is challenging for your child, try to give them notice, so they know what to expect. For example, if your child typically struggles to stop playing in the morning and get ready to leave for school, spend some time during breakfast to go over the plan for the morning.
“Hey buddy, this morning after breakfast, we are going to go upstairs and brush your teeth and get dressed. Then you will have some time to play! When it’s almost time to go, I will set a 5-minute timer to let you know that it’s time to get your coat and boots on and leave for school. Do you have any questions?”
When your child knows the plan and what to expect, they are much more likely to comply with your requests.
Remember: It’s ok for your child to get curious about your demands.
When you find yourself frustrated and exhausted because your kids won’t do what you ask, remember that if we want to raise our children to be assertive and confident, we shouldn’t expect instant compliance and obedience in childhood.
Take the time to help your children understand “the why” behind your demands. Please encourage them to ask questions and get curious.