You ask your child to pick up his toys and he refuses? You remind him that it’s time to get dressed, he looks at you and says “No”? Oftentimes, when we are confronted with these behaviors, we quickly conclude that our child is not listening or obeying intentionally. In fact, if we think this way, it is very likely that we are projecting our adult reasoning onto our child’s intentions. The reasons for disobeying are often related to a need or an emotion.

1. Let’s enter their universe

Let’s enter their world before asking them to enter ours!

We know that our children live in the present moment especially during early years. They are so absorbed in all their senses when they play. We can talk and repeat, our child may not hear us or not listen to us … Without a doubt, he finds it more interesting to continue playing than to listen to what we ask of him. We want him to go brush his teeth, get ready for his bath or clean his toys. The problem is that our child surely has other priorities and like any self-respecting being, he follows his own needs, so he refuses our request.

Need for connection

If our child does not respond to our request, we can communicate with him by being interested in what he is doing. We can use sentences like:” Mom would like to know what game you’re playing?” Or “I really like the yellow in your drawing. What other color will you choose? Or “What did the duck say to the hen in your book?” There is nothing quite like immersing yourself in your child’s world for a few minutes to make the connection. And the more we are interested in his universe, the more he will want to collaborate with us!

2. Provide choices

Let’s be open to creative ideas!

Once we have captured his attention and are interested in his game, it will be easier for us to make our request. We can say: “It’s time to pick up your toys, it’s bath time or it’s time to eat.” However, this does not mean that he will automatically collaborate with us. 

Need for control

If our child refuses to listen, it is better to come up with creative ideas for our child rather than enter into a power struggle. We can use sentences like: “Do you want to get your dinosaur to the table? I think he is also very hungry!” Or ” How long do the firefighters need to save the truck stuck in PlayDoh?” Young children will respond with something like “2 minutes or 5 minutes”. In that case, we can say: “Perfect my love, I’ll be back to see you in 2-5 minutes. When I come back, it’s all done, it’s time to get dressed”. These few minutes will allow our child to finish playing quietly and to feel in control. Whatever the situation, our willingness to offer choices to our child will show that we respect his world and take his emotions into account.

3. Let’s be in our heart

Let’s get out of our adult mind!

We don’t want to find ourselves in a situation where we think the only option is to “force” our child to obey. The more we are angry, irritated, the more our child will oppose. Let’s be aware of the tone of our voice and the expression of our face. Our brains are wired to protect us and to withstand pressure. We can enter our hearts to use our tenderness and our gentleness.

Need for empathy

If our child refuses, resists or tries to negotiate, despite our best efforts, he will need our listening and our understanding. Let’s try to understand what he is going through: is he tired? Sad? Angry? If our child opposes our request, let’s try to see the situation with his eyes. How does he feel? Let’s try to reach out to him in his emotion with empathy to show him that we understand. We can say something like: “I know you’re mad and wish you had more time to play, but it’s time for your bath.” The more sincere and in our hearts, the easier our child will listen to us.

Iman El-Jed | Family Coach specializing in early childhood, Child behaviour Advisor and she holds a bachelor’s degree in psychology and linguistics. She is the founder of Enfance Bienaimée:

Our mission is to help you find solutions to challenging behaviour. We offer support and guidance customized to the uniqueness of each child and their family.

Do not hesitate to contact us for a free phone call at (514) 808-2126 or by email at

Photo : Sandy Millar | Unplash

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