refuses to do what you ask (3)

What to Do When Your Child Refuses to Do What You Ask?

It’s a familiar drill. You’ve asked your child to do some task, but they flatly refuse to do it. 

Much to the universal dismay of moms and dads, children often ignore requests and directions from their parents. 

While it’s possible that kids sometimes don’t hear what’s being communicated, often, they purposefully ignore what they hear the first time. 

They do this because they don’t want to oblige, are waging a form of protest, or are attempting to continue the desired behaviour.

While this may sort itself out as a child matures, there are steps you can take to set expectations for responsiveness and begin to curb this behaviour. 

This starts with making some adjustments in how you ask your child to do what you say.

You’ve tried all the tricks: You’ve used the “mom voice,” counted to three, and broken out all the stops, and your child still defies you. It’s enough to make any parent frustrated! 

When it’s time to get severe and discipline your child, do you know if you’re punishing them correctly? Are you sure you’re making the right choices? Where do you draw the line?

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Repeating requests repeatedly—get up and brush your teeth, start your homework, clean up your room—is an energy burner and source of incredible frustration for many parents. 

In many cases, parents fall into a pattern of always making several requests of a child.

You might tell your son or daughter to do something, then tell them again 10 minutes later, and again 30 minutes later, only realising at that point that they still haven’t done what you asked. 

When you ask your child to do something for what seems like the umpteenth time, frustration builds up, and your reaction is not often a calm one. 

A simple request becomes a source of tension and conflict.

What’s Going On?

Before we get into practical solutions for this problem, let’s look at what’s happening here. 

Is your child just being obstinate and willful? Maybe. But the more significant reasons for her non-compliance might surprise you.

One big thing that may be happening when your child refuses to act until you’ve lost your temper is a bid for power. 

Power struggles are par for the course as your child becomes more and more independent. The longer she can hold you off, the more powerful she feels. 

The angrier you get, the more she feels she can control your emotions. 

This aspect of getting kids to follow directions is the easiest to remedy: the most effective way to end a power struggle is by refusing to engage in it. 

Clear, direct expectations and consequences can keep you out of these battles.

But in the case of having to ask over and over, underlying power struggles might be less of an issue than training. 

Yes, your child might be trained to not respond to your first several requests. Think about it.  

If you’re in the habit of saying something 4 or 5 times before your child does as you’ve asked – on a good day – why should he do it the first time? 

He knows you don’t really “mean it” until several requests down the road. Those first few times are just the warm-up.

Another surprise? While you may feel incredibly frustrated that your kid won’t stop what he’s doing, it’s normal behaviour. 

The truth is, we all do it. Look at it like this: if you’re doing something you like, how many times do you tell yourself, “I should go start dinner.” 

And then you keep not going to start dinner. That’s human nature. We want to keep doing the things we want to do, and we put off what we don’t want to do. 

There’s nothing wrong with your child if he’s doing this. Your child is simply interested in his stuff, not yours. 

Like most people, he wants to keep doing what he enjoys and isn’t interested in things he doesn’t enjoy.

The Real Reason Kids’ Say No

When a child refuses to do what you ask, there are hidden reasons. Our kids don’t deliberately say no to push our buttons. 

When they say no, it’s because their feelings and emotions have overwhelmed their ability to think and cooperate. 

Saying “No!” is a signal that your attention on the subject is needed. 

The options listed above are temporary solutions based on wielding power over an already anxious child or on giving up forging a healthy solution that pleases both of you.  

This post will show you a fresh approach that fosters trust, partnership and co-regulation. 

You’ll discover a supportive way to work with your child. You’ll dissolve the feelings driving their resistance until they are happy to be part of the solution.

Child Refuses to Do What You Ask

How To Get Your Child To Comply

Before you get too angry, it’s important to note that your child may not be ignoring you on purpose. Strategies to get your child to do what you ask the first time include the following:

Holding An Expectation Calmly When Your Child Refuses

With some planning, your child will soon feel able to do more of the things you ask.

This approach gives you a seven-step route-map to help you:

  • Identify which expectations to hold.
  • Get into a place where you and your child are ready to partner on getting tasks done.
  • Begin breaking down the resistance in a supportive way.
  • You can think of it as the “Seven C’s For Holding An Expectation.

The Seven “C’s” are:

  • Continuing process: When setting limits, adopt a long-term view
  • Choose: Decide which request you want to work on
  • Cultivate: Lay the groundwork with both yourself and your child
  • Communicate/consent: Set the expectation when things are calm
  • Confidence: Hold the expectation
  • Calm: Calm and helpful responses to use when your child says no
  • Care: Respond with listening and care when your child says no

Change The Dynamic

So how can you deal with this? We mean, you do need your child to do what she’s asked the first time. 

Human nature and habit aside, it would cause so much less stress for everyone if she’d do it the first time.  

It will take some time and patience on your part, but you can retrain your child to respond to the first request. 

It’s not going to be easy because you’ll have to resist the urge to repeat your request as you usually do. 

You’re going to have to override your frustration to remain calm and clear. Ready?

Have a short, direct conversation with your child about the problem. For example, “I notice that I often tell you 5 or 6 times to do something before you eventually do it. 

That’s not going to work anymore. So from now on, I will tell you once, and if you don’t do as asked by the time I tell you, there will be a consequence.”

Be sure you know what the consequence will be! Making one up in the heat of the moment is ineffective. 

Surprising your child with a consequence after the fact often makes things worse. 

Be clear about what she can expect to gain for completing the task assigned and what she will lose if she doesn’t comply.

Give a time frame to allow for transition. Look, you don’t like to jump at someone’s suggestions, and your child doesn’t either.

Instead of saying, “Do this right now!” a more effective statement might be: “The trash needs to be taken out before 4 o’clock. 

That means you have 20 minutes to get it done.” Then, remind your child of the consequences for not following through: “Remember, when the trash is out by four, you get to play video games for an hour. If it’s not, you don’t.”

This is a critical piece of the puzzle. 

You’re connecting your consequences to the behaviour you want to improve, and you are letting your child know what she earns when she’s completed the task. 

In this case, you want to see your child better respond to requests the first time, and you want the trash out by a specific time.   

Note—this also works if you’re trying to get her to stop doing something. 

If you have to tell your daughter 46 times to turn off the TV, change your directive to something like: “You have 15 more minutes of TV time; then it’s going off.”

In the beginning, give a reminder – once. It may seem counterintuitive to give your child a reminder when you’re trying to get him to respond to your first request. 

Remember that you’re asking him to learn a new behaviour. A little bit of coaching can increase your chances of success. 

Coaching is different from repeating a direction.  

For example, if your child hasn’t moved to do as asked and he’s running out of time, pop your head in and say, “You have about five minutes to get that trash out. I know you want your video games, so be sure it gets done.”

Be prepared for failure. This may be the most challenging part of this whole process. You’ve repeated your instructions so many times in the past; your child expects that to continue. 

He’s going to test that theory more than once before things shift. It’s only through repeated, consistent practice that both of you will understand that things have changed.

When your child fails to meet the time deadline (and he will), be calm, clear, and direct: “You didn’t get the trash out by four, so you’ve lost access to your games tonight. 

You’ll get another chance tomorrow. Then, when you do as asked in the time you’re given, you’ll get to play your games.”

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Get Their Attention

Science has proven that when children become immersed in what they are doing, they ignore what is happening around them. 

The research points out that kids under the age of 14 lack “peripheral awareness,” which means that if your child is focused on a toy, book, game, or TV show when you ask them to do something, their brain is tuned into that activity and not much more.

That means that, at the very least, you must make eye contact when you request that your child do something. 

It works best if you can go up to them, touch their arm or rest a hand on their shoulder, and get down to eye level. 

Encourage them to make eye contact with you in return and repeat what you have just asked them to do.

If you are busy in another room, ask your child to come to you before you make your request.

Change Your Approach

If you have approached your child as above and it still takes repeated nagging or begging on your part to get them to do as you say, then you may need a new game plan. 

Many children have developed several strategies to put things off as long as possible. 

Kids don’t understand the consequences of not doing undesirable tasks and are more motivated by what brings them joy rather than what has to get done.

The fact of the matter is that most adults wouldn’t categorise these activities as fun either. 

So, children learn to distract parents by whining, bringing up something else to do at that moment, starting an argument, or just downright ignoring the request.

To curb your child from stalling or ignoring you, you will need to put a little bit more time and attention into the way you approach the situation.

Child Refuses to Do What You Ask

Be Patient

Breaking a child’s tendency to ignore you or resist cooperating when you say something the first time will take time and some practice on your part. Still, the results will be less frustration, anger, and stress for you, and hopefully more respect, compliance, and self-discipline from your child.

It’s best to start practising these steps with a request that does not require you to leave the house soon afterwards. 

There may be tantrums and lengthy explanations at the beginning of the exercise, which all take some considerable time.

Set A Time Frame

Decide in your mind what you want the child to do and the time frame you will accept for their compliance (immediately, within 15 minutes, etc.) 

Check in with yourself about the reason behind your choices and whether that matches your request.

Be Specific

Don’t phrase your request as a question. Instead, tell them precisely what you want them to do presently. 

For example, rather than asking, “Can you please go brush your teeth now?” say, “Please go brush your teeth right now so you can get to bed on time.”

Watch For Compliance

It’s easy to give instruction and pivot back to what you were doing beforehand. At the beginning of this practice, avoid doing so. 

Check immediately to see if what you requested was done. That way, your child has accountability and knows you are serious about them complying with the request.

Adopt A Long-term View

We often think of limit-setting as something that has to happen quickly, when we ask, and without delay. 

And we seek quick fixes when we don’t get immediate obedience. So in this fresh approach, it’s essential to see limit-setting as an ongoing project. 

We will be working not on the resistance itself but the cause of the opposition. This requires a longer-term view but will bring lasting transformation.

Decide Which Request Do You Want To Work On

If your child resists waking up, eating breakfast, going to school, picking up their belongings, and going to sleep, it can be hard to know where to start. 

And it’s tempting to want to work on everything at once


Pick one issue, and focus there.

Decide which limit is most important to you and why that might be, and then find a good time to approach the subject when things are calm (and before you need it done).

Check For Understanding

If they don’t begin doing what you asked or don’t complete the task, calmly ask them, “What did I ask you to do?” Make sure the child is clear about what is expected. If they can correctly tell you, say, “That’s good, now please get to it.”

Praise Success

If your child does what you asked, tell them what a good job they did and how much you appreciate them taking action. 

It’s easy to forget to do this, but reinforcing compliance with praise can go a long way in supporting this behaviour.

Give Fair Warning

If they don’t do what you asked after the first or second request, then it’s time to explain why you are asking them to do that specific task and the consequences if they don’t comply. 

Just repeating “because I said so” is ineffective and may lead to other issues with compliance.

If possible, show your child the actual impact of their behaviour so that they know that your requests are not arbitrary. 

An example of this is to let your child know that it affects others if they don’t do something you have requested.

For example: “Please go brush your teeth right now. Bedtime is in 15 minutes. If you don’t brush your teeth right now, there won’t be any time left to read a story tonight. Daddy looks forward to reading with you before bed, and I know you enjoy reading with him, too.”

Be Consistent And Follow Through

If your reasonable request is followed by more defiance and temper tantrums, then it is time to follow through with the consequence you have set. 

Be firm and keep at it. Consistency with this step is key to letting your child know that you are serious when you make a request the first time.

These steps may seem ineffective the first several times you employ them but stick with it. Eventually, both of you will get used to the method. 

You will get better at phrasing your requests firmly and purposefully the first time, and your child will come to understand that you do not ask for arbitrary or unreasonable demands from them.


Remember that you want your child to succeed. This is not about punishment, and you can’t punish a child for better behaviour. 

This is about helping your child learn to manage his time better and get better at following directions. 

With practice, he’ll see that getting those irritating chores out of the way means much less stress and annoyance and far more free time.

Be patient with yourself and your child. Changing behaviours takes time and work on everyone’s part. Stay focused and clear. You can do this, and so can your child.

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