Why Obedience Should Never be the Goal of Parenting

As I round the corner in my hallway, my irritation explodes as I see my son playing a game on the computer. He has been on that computer too long, he has other things to do!

“You need to go practice the piano!” His shoulders tense. He is not going to obey, shouts the voice in my head.

I wait for two seconds. He is still sitting there. I don’t have time for this! He is not even moving.

“Get off the computer and go practice!”

“I don’t want to practice right now,” he argues back.

Oh, no he thinks he’s going to win this one. Oh, no he is not! Threaten him with a punishment, he is not obeying you. You are his mother, shouts the voice.

When you tell your kids to do something and they don’t immediately comply with your commands, you might think, “How dare he! I am the parent! He needs to obey me!” Then you dole out a big punishment that “teaches him a lesson.”

How do you get your children to obey?

First, I want you to know I understand. This has happened to me. Many times.

It can even go a step further if your children resist or try to defend themselves. Then the red blazing anger fully ignites like the character from the movie Inside Out. “Put the foot down! Put the foot down!”

Unfortunately when parents are angry they might do or say something harmful to their children, forgetting they are the adults who are responsible for their behavior and actions toward the younger and often smaller human beings in their care.

Mindset Anyone?

The problem lies in the mindset that compliant obedience is the number one goal of parenting. Closely tied to this is the idea of punishing disobedience.

Before you continue, let me clarify: I am not talking about safety issues. Of course if your child is hurting someone or about to be hurt, you need to step in and stop the unsafe behavior. What I am discussing are the daily interactions where you need your children to stop what they are doing and complete a task you are giving them, such as piano practicing, homework, or cleaning their room.

Interestingly, as I was researching for my book, Self-Motivated Kids, it became glaringly obvious that the idea of obedient (compliant) children who are motivated out of fear or threat of punishment has existed for generations.

The problem with this way of thinking is children grow up either compliant to authority figures or resentful and rebellious. Think about it: do you really want your children compliant to all authority figures? Even those who would do them harm? Do you want your children to resentful because they feel your agenda is more important than they are? When they are older do you want them to rebel? Of course not. When obedience is the number one goal this is the path you might be headed on.

What needs to be the goal of parenting?

The goal of parenting needs to be…

Connection first, then cooperation.

Before you think, “This lady is crazy!” Hear me out.

Connection means listening to your children, being there for each other, and spending time together. It means building a trusting relationship. Doctor Shefali, a clinical psychologist and author of Out of Control sums it up well, “The first task of any parent is to establish connection.”

The reason this needs to be the first goal of parenting is when children feel their parents really care for them and consider their point of view, children will listen and cooperate. Children who listen and cooperate is ultimately what all parents want.

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Do not confuse connection with giving children whatever they want or constantly coddling them. It does, however, mean slowing down to have conversations, listening to their concerns, empathizing with their feelings, and respecting who they are.

Once a connection has been formed, simply tell them what needs to be done in a kind but firm tone. Pause. Children then have to process the information.

Dr. Laura Markham, a clinical psychologist and parenting author explains this process, “Their frontal cortex is still developing the ability to switch gears from what they want to what you want. Every time you set a limit that requires your child to give up what [he] wants in order to do what you want, [he] has to make a choice. When [he] decides that [his] relationship with you is more important than what [he] wants at this moment, [he] follows your request.”

What is the key for him to follow what you ask? Your relationship! Children who feel connected to their parents and have a relationship with them are going to listen and cooperate (more often than not).

Here’s what it looks like:

As you look at your son, you quiet the negative voice and take a deep breath. Connect with him first, you repeat to yourself. You squat next to him and place your hand on his shoulder. “Looks like a fun game.”

“Yeah, look at what this does mom,” he replies with a smile. You watch for thirty seconds commenting about the game.

“You need to practice the piano,” You calmly say. “Do you want to finish up your turn first and then go practice?”

“Yes, that would work.”

“What do you need to do when your turn is done?”

“Practice the piano,” he replies.

“Okay sounds like a deal.”

One minute of connection opens your children’s hearts and ears. It solidifies your relationship. It is the first goal of parenting. Give it a try and see what happens.

Question: Have you tried connecting with your children? If so, what happened? You can leave a comment below.

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About The Author

Damara Simmons

I am a wife, mother, author, speaker, and family life educator. I love learning and inspiring parents. Join me as we journey together!