Why Obedience Should Never be the Goal of Parenting

As I round the hallway corner my irritation explodes at the sight of my thirteen year old son playing a computer game. He has been on that computer too long, he has other things to do! My brain screams.

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

I wait for two seconds. The tea kettle is boiling. 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 yell.

“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!” And then dole out a big punishment that will “teach him a lesson and put him in his place.”

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 red blazing anger fully ignites like the character from the movie Inside Out. “Put the foot down! Put the foot down!” It yells.

Unfortunately when parents fell angry they might do or say something harmful to their children, forgetting they are the adults who are first 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. Directly tied to this mindset is the idea that disobedience needs to be punished.

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. Immediately. What I am discussing are the daily interactions when you need your children to stop what they are doing and complete a task such as piano practicing, homework, or cleaning their room.

Interestingly, as I researched 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.

So what is the problem? 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 the answer to all three questions is “No.”

However, when obedience is the number one goal of parenting, you could be headed on this path.

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 connection 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. Which is what we all want, right?

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But, (and this is a big BUT), 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. Then pause, giving them a few seconds 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 so he will 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 (at least most of the time… hey no one is perfect.)

What does it look like?

I look at my son, take a deep breath, quieting the negative voice. Connect with him first, I repeat to myself. Squatting next to him, I place a hand on his shoulder. “Looks like a fun game.”

“Yeah, look at what this does mom,” he replies as a grin explodes across his face. I watch for thirty seconds commenting about the game.

“You need to practice the piano. 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 will open your child’s heart 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!