Having an Obedient Child Doesn't Make You a Good Parent


toddlerToddlerhood, the age that defines the parenting warriors from the flakes, the battle-axes from the push-overs. If babyhood is all about mere survival, the toddler years are when you decide what kind of a parent you're going to be. Even if you don't pick a specific parenting philosophy -- say, tall half-disciplinarian half-attachment-parenting with soy whipped cream -- you're still being forced to make decisions about how you will teach your kid to be a decent human being.

For a lot of parents -- and parenting experts -- raising a decent human being looks a lot like raising an obedient person. BUT -- we also want our kids to be compassionate and independent thinkers. An article in The Guardian asks, Since when did obedience become the epitome of good parenting? I think that's an idea worth picking apart.

I feel like there's this notion that raising a child means taming a child. And I think that approach totally oversimplifies the job. My role as a parent isn't just to teach my kid right from wrong. It's way more complex than that. I'm supposed to be teaching him what empathy is, and why it matters, and how to do it. I'm supposed to teach him to reason, to question, to explore, and to trust himself. I'm supposed to teach him how helpful cooperating with the grownups in certain situations is -- and how to use his judgement to choose when not to follow orders. I'm supposed to help him develop his own moral compass -- not one I've imposed on him, but one of his own making.

I remember long ago thinking I would be a strict disciplinarian when I became a parent. (Back when I knew it all, obviously.) And then I met my son. And I realized I'd been seeing parenting through an incredibly narrow and limiting perspective.

Abandoning obedience-based parenting doesn't mean you're raising your kid to be an inconsiderate little jerk. (Yeah, we hear you, JoAnn from Bensonhurst.) And I know what people are talking about when they complain about parents who just let their kids run wild. But there's a difference between barking "NO!" or "STOPIT NOW!" at your kid and picking the right moment to lower yourself down to their eye level and using your INSIDE voice to help them see when their behavior is unkind or destructive. And the difference is -- that second approach is way more work. But I think it's worth the effort.

What do you think -- should children be taught to be obedient or are there better approaches?


Image via Jessica.Tam/Flickr

child care, discipline, learning, toddler development


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aeama... aeamathis

Teach your child to obey rules by explaining the why behind the rule.  This teaches them to think about rules and laws and what's best for society, the classroom or the home.  This way, they don't just obey the rules/laws, they are contributing to a pleasant, safe environment.

Melis... Melissa042807

Well, yeah, to some degree I want my kid to be obedient. If he takes off running down the driveway toward the street and I holler "NO!" as I take my first step after him, I would prefer he listen and stop before we're both out in the street. 

But raising good kids is way more than just that. They're complex little beings. My little guy is pretty dang obedient, but as he gets older I'm beginning to see how much of that is just his temperament (who is this 2 year old and can all my kids be just like him?!?!). That doesn't let me off the hook from parenting by any means, but it just illustrates how important it is for me to know my kids and help them develop their personalities. Hollering "no!" is not always the answer and it's not always necessary. For example, when he goes to grab something he shouldn't we say "That is not for toys - where are your toys?" and that does the trick. I trained him on that from a very early age, because I just didn't feel like saying "no" all the time. But I had to balance that with teaching him a healthy respect for the word "no" so that he knows I mean business when I say it. Make sense? It's all about balance. 

Fallaya Fallaya

Some children are naturally compliant, while others like to push boundaries.  Their personalities have nothing to do with our parenting abilities.  When my dd was younger, she was a good little girl, never gave me any problems.  Now that she's three, she like to push boundaries.  Instead of labeling her as a "bad" child, I consider her a natural leader.  It's my role as a mommy to find a discipline style that suits her unique personality (except for hitting...hitting is never an option in my parenting tools).

nonmember avatar Ashley

I definitely agree that kids should understand the reasons behind rules or social norms, but they also need a healthy dose of "because I said so". Most times kids that are told a simple "stop it" have heard the reasons many times before.


I agree fallaya. My oldest has ADHD so it was hard for him to listen, my second knows how to behave and will listen at times but he likes to push, my third is quiet and will listen most of the time. I don't know how my fourth with be. He is still pretty little. Some people would label me as a bad parent just based on my older 2 but since my third behaves great obviously its not my parenting that causes my oldest 2 to be how they are.

angev... angevil53

i agree with ashley, and spelling everything out for them all time takes away their own reasoning skills.

boomamma boomamma

I agree with the referenced article, and every parent has to KNOW THEIR CHILD and figure out what kind of boundaries that child needs.  Parenting with mutual respect means that it might take longer to get dressed some days and it may take longer to do most things...but once a real trust is established, your chidl will CHOOSE to hold your hand when you cross the street because they trust you, not because you "said so".  There is a reason most people have nixed "obay" from their marriage vows today, and that's because we are a free thinking people and children have thoughts and opinions of thier own too.  At the end of the day, my child HAS to hold my hand, but that doesn't mean I have to disrepect his opinion and force it on him.  

Bonni... BonnieCompton

I feel that there needs to be a healthy balance between providing structure and guidelines for your child, with logical consequences vs. children being obedient because they fear their parent or the consequences.  Children, are natural learners and when given the opportunity to make decisions regarding their behavior, they often make the right choice...especially when they learn by experiencing natural consequences.  

Whether you are a parent of an infant, toddler, school-age child, or teenager, being mindful in your parenting helps set the stage for your child's success...not only in their behavior but their day to day experiences.  If you'd like to read more about mindful parenting, please download my free e-booklet, "Becoming the Parent You Hoped to Be"  http://www.parentingpartners.info/free-ebook

Bonnie Compton, APRN, BC, CPNP


nonmember avatar Darlene

Every child is different. I have 8 and I have tailored my style to each child. It's a lot of work, but it WORKS. After my first 20 years ago I thought I'd had it all figured out when the 2nd came along. Nope. What worked with her did not with him and so on.
Rules like holding hands while crossing the street, not using bad language, no hitting, spitting, littering, screaming or running in the house and public places were not negotiable, but how I got them to clean their rooms, do homework, varied from child to child.
Children are NOT soldiers whom we train for a mission or a unified purpose. They are different people with separate brains, personalities, emotions, talents and faults. Each child will bring something to the table in every family unit IF you do not narrow their scope of reasoning and accomplishment by treating them the 'same'. JMO

Momma... MommaGreenhalge

I think there needs to be a good balance. Obedience is the first step for us, and with that goes an explanation of why. They need to trust that we as their parents are in charge, and with good reason. After they get that down to a certain point (no kid is perfect), we start working on the more independant thinking stages. My four year old is there now, working on learning to work together and empathy. We are also teaching him who is a trusted grownup and who is not. His aunt is only ten, and she likes to boss him around. We're working on teaching him that he doesn't have to do everything she says, but he should be nice about it.

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