Why obedience should never be the goal of parenting

Imagine children who listen and respond when you ask them to do something. When you adjust your parenting goal, this can become a reality.

Why obedience should never be the goal of parenting

Imagine children who listen and respond when you ask them to do something. When you adjust your parenting goal, this can become a reality.
  • As I round the corner, I see my fourteen-year-old son sitting at the computer playing a game. He has been on that computer too long; he has other things to do, I think.

  • "You need to go practice the piano," I gruffly call out. His shoulders tense. He is not going to obey,shouts the negative voice in my headPause 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 blurt, anger rising to the surface.

  • "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 in my head.

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

  • It can even go a step further if children resist or try to defend themselves. Then, big blazing anger fully ignites. Unfortunately, when parents are angry, they might do or say something harmful to their children. They often forget they are the adults who are responsible for their behavior and action toward the younger and smaller human beings in their care.

  • So why does this cycle start? Where is the problem?

  • Obedience as a parenting goal

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

  • Before we 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 when you need your children to stop what they are doing and complete a task you are giving them such as practicing the piano, finishing their homework or cleaning their room.

  • Interestingly, as I was researching for my book, it became glaringly obvious that the goal of having obedient (compliant) children who are motivated out of fear or because of threat of punishment has existed for generations.

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  • The problem with this goal and 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 be 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. But when obedience is the number one goal, this is the path you might be headed on.

  • What is the solution? What needs to be the goal of parenting? Connection first, then cooperation.

  • Before you think, "This lady is crazy!" hear me out.

  • Connection as a parenting goal

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

  • This needs to be the first goal of parenting because when children feel their parents really care for them and consider their points of view, children will listen and cooperate.

  • Do not confuse connection with giving children whatever they want or constantly coddling them. Connection means slowing down to have conversations, listening to children's concerns, empathizing with how they are feeling and respecting who they are.

  • Once you form a connection, simply tell them what needs to be done in a kind but firm tone. Children then have to process the information.

  • Dr. Laura Markham, 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 she wants in order to do what you want, she has to make a choice. When she decides that her relationship with you is more important than what she wants at this moment, she follows your request."

  • What is key for your kids 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.

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  • Here's what it looks like:

  • As I look at my son, I quiet the negative voice and take a deep breath. Connect with him first, I repeat to myself. I squat next to him and place my hand on his shoulder. "Looks like a fun game."

  • "Yeah, look at what this does, Mom," he replies with a smile. I watch for thirty seconds commenting about the game.

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

  • "Yes, that would work."

  • "What do you need to do when your turn is over?"

  • "Practice the piano," he replies.

  • "OK, 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.

  • This article was previously published on It has been republished here with permission.

Damara Simmons loves empowering parents with knowledge and truth so they don't accidentally disconnect their cherished relationships.


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