10 reasons we want kids to do as they are told

Hannah Dickson spends an hour with Diane Levy

We put a lot of energy into getting our children to do what they are told, it’s worth putting a little energy into thinking about why they need to. It’s a classic exchange between parents and children heard every day in homes, playgrounds and shopping malls all around the world (even if you vowed you’d never use these words).

Parent: You need to do as you are told.
Child: Why should I?
Parent: Because I said so.

As tempting as it is to fall back on that old ‘I told you so’ adage, there are more convincing reasons why children need to do as they are told. In fact, Diane Levy has 10 reasons. Here they are.

1. It’s about teaching self-discipline

“What we ultimately want for our children is for them to be self-disciplined,” says Diane. Self-discipline underpins many of the characteristics we want to our children to have, including being able to handle their emotions, having the self-restraint to cope with frustrations, being able to see things through, and have the life skills to behave in a values-driven way.

2. It’s about building resilience

When a child overcomes their own resistance to having to do something they don’t want to, they build resilience, which is an excellent life skill to have.

3. It’s about building skills

When children are willing to comply, they can put their energy into skill-building rather than resistance. If a child won’t put their shoes on in the first place, it’s very hard to teach them how to tie their laces.

4. It’s about being likeable

A well-mannered, pleasant child is delightful to be with. The adults in their life will want to spend more time with them and won’t have to spend all their energy getting compliance. In the same way, a child who is enthusiastic and open to trying new things is far easier to be around than one who has to be cajoled and persuaded into everything.

5. It’s about EQ (emotional intelligence)

A relatively compliant child (we’re talking actively compliant, not passively complicit here) has learned to tolerate the ordinary frustrations of life and is more likely to be able to tolerate other frustrations.

6. It’s about spending energy on the enjoyable things

When a child puts lots of energy into resistance they get exhausted, and a parent who has to put lots of energy into fighting that resistance gets equally exhausted. It doesn’t leave much energy for the fun activities.

7. It’s about not sabotaging their learning

Some children can become quite clever at sabotaging their learning opportunities at school and at home by putting their energy into avoiding doing what they are asked to. It may be clever, but it’s not smart – it will catch up with them eventually.

8. It’s about understanding cooperation

Cooperation is a very necessary social skill and learning to be part of a team is important. Yes, being a leader is a great quality, but there’s a difference between always having to be the boss, and being able to encourage inclusion and participation.

9. It’s about safety

This is a practical one. The child who knows to stand by the car rather than running off into traffic, who holds your hand while crossing the road, or automatically wears a bike helmet, is safer.

10. It saves you a lot of embarrassment

We may not like to admit it, but it’s embarrassing when we are out in public and our children don’t do what they are told.

It’s important to note that encouraging self-discipline and getting children to do as they are told is not about squashing their spirit or turning them into robots who don’t think for themselves – it’s quite the opposite, says Diane. “We want our children to be able to stick up for themselves and have their own ideas. But actually the more self-disciplined they are, the freer they are to have their own ideas and develop them.”