Compliance is Not Enough

Parents often come to me with the hope that I can help their children with compliance. The basic desire here is for children to listen to the adults in charge, particularly their parents and teachers. Not a bad goal. Not a bad goal at all. Children need to listen. They can't be safe in a world where they are in charge! They are immature, naive, and in desperate need of our adult protection and guidance. 

When children don't listen, it's not just the parent's problem. It is actually a much bigger problem for the child in question. "Don't run out into traffic." "Share with your friends." "Listen to your teacher." Refusing to comply with these sorts of basic requests can land a child failing school, with no friends, seriously injured in a ditch somewhere. Compliance is a really big deal! 

But compliance is not enough. 

I tell parents all the time: "Compliance is easy to come by!" You can get compliance quite quickly through brute force and fear mongering, through threats and bribery, through power-tripping, through unpredictable and scary behavior, through ripping stickers right off their freaking sticker charts. 

Of course -no surprise- this is not how the majority of parents truly wish to parent! It goes against their basic values to parent with anger at the helm. They don't want their kids to listen to them out of fear, but out of respect. So this is how parents come to me: They need their child to listen more often, but they don't want to resort to yelling, bribing, and feeling out-of-control any longer. They feel they are out of tools, out of options.

I am going to tell you a secret. If you want your children to listen to you and also to be emotionally healthy, compliance simply cannot be the overarching goal. You have to change your focus. Compliance must be the unlikely side-effect, not the primary focus. It's an essential paradigm shift.

Here are some healthier places to focus: 

  • "I want to understand my child's needs."

  • "I want my child to feel deeply connected to me."

  • "I want to work on being a confident, assertive, and clear leader."

  • "I want my child to know that she can bring her vulnerability, feelings, and needs to me."

  • "I want to do a better job understanding my child's behaviors and what she is trying to communicate."

  • "I want to learn how to stay calm and confident in the face of my child's most challenging behaviors."

These are some goals worth prioritizing! Goals that will lead to a closer, more connected, and healthier relationship with your child. . . and that awesome side-effect. . .COMPLIANCE! And you know what? We CAN get there, together. 


Danielle Maxon is a child therapist and Licensed Clinical Social Worker in the State of North Carolina. She has been strengthening families in North Carolina since 2011. In August of 2015 she created her private practice, Under Wing Therapeutic Services, PLLC, which offers parent-child play therapy, parenting support and individual counseling for children under 12. Danielle specializes in the treatment of complex trauma, including profound neglect, orphanage experiences and adoption She especially loves helping defiant, aggressive little ones and exasperated parents.