Surprising Causes of Child Disobedience and How to Finally Break the Cycle

when your child disobeys on purpose

Children disobey. It happens whether you’re raising toddlers or teenagers. In fact, we disobey too. Like when we deliberately go a bit or a lot faster than the posted speed limit sign because our kid was going to be late for school for the third time this week.

The fact is when we disobey we often take the “it’s justified” stance based on our circumstances at the moment. However, when our kids disobey we assume that our kid is acting out.

when your child disobeys on purpose

There are many underlying causes for child disobedience that may actually surprise you. And many situations where a child is being called “strong-willed” is actually being caused by something else entirely.

Part of being a loving, positive parent is learning to become a detective who looks for clues most people can’t clearly see on the surface. We need to do some digging to find the real answers to our parenting struggles.

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It May Not Be Defiance at All

As I said earlier, all children disobey. That’s totally normal and not necessarily a symptom of an underlying problem.

That’s because there may be a logical reason for your child not listening. Let’s say you called your 4-year-old to dinner and they didn’t come downstairs. You called three more times with no response before finally storming upstairs with your frustrated meter on high.

You find your daughter in her closet trying to put away the game she was playing. She’s visibly frustrated with tears welling up in her eyes because she can’t figure out how to get the game in the box by herself. You’ve been spending time lately teaching her how to put away her toys when she’s done.

The frustration meter suddenly plummets and you feel terrible for getting upset.

The most helpful way to handle this situation is to offer positive encouragement by acknowledging how she cleaned up before dinner.

But this praise must be followed by a clear reinforcement that whenever mommy or daddy calls you, you answer… no matter what.

Surprising Reasons Children Disobey

But what if your child disobeys a lot… on purpose? This can be frustrating and requires us as parents to look deeper for the source.

First, we need to explore the possible causes for your child’s disobedience. Again, these may surprise you and help you change your approach to discipline.

1 – Your Relationship Needs Strengthening

It may not seem or feel on the surface that your relationship with your child needs strengthening but often that’s exactly the culprit.

There’s a need built into children to want to please and obey their parents just as we have the same need to put a smile on our child’s face. However, when there’s a lack of trust or connection this can lead to a child acting out.

If you feel that you aren’t as connected as you once were with your child, try setting aside a small amount of time every day to have one on one time together. This can be just talking and asking questions or doing fun activities together.

Building trust and connection with your child isn’t done overnight and should be a priority for the long haul. Relationship and connection with our children should be at the top of our priorities as parents.

2 – No Clear Boundaries

If your child doesn’t have clear expectations or boundaries as it relates to his behavior he will consequently spend much of his time testing those boundaries.

He’s not testing to irritate you but to simply locate those boundaries so he knows how far to go. This can feel to a parent like your child is always testing the limits. That’s because they are!

It’s our responsibility as parents to establish those healthy expectations for our child from very early on. This task is one that never goes away and needs constant refining and reminding along the way.

It’s much easier to spend your moments teaching and modeling proper behavior, even ad nauseam, than it is to spend your days constantly correcting the wrong ones.

3 – Constant Labeling

This is a big one for today’s parenting where social media cultivates all the “labels and names” we can give our children without ever considering if that’s even true of our child. Labeling actually holds us back as parents.

Terms like the terrible twos, bratty teenager, and even strong-willed child are all labels that limit our own will as parents. For example, if we buy into the lie that all babies who reach the age of two become terrible we set ourselves up to hunker down until it’s over.

We stop looking for solutions because we believe it’s all a part of the journey. I mean, every mom is struggling with their teenager, right?

I’ve refused to believe in the negative labels about children and as it turns out when you expect your child to be a certain way, they will. That’s because my expectation that my kids will be well-behaved greatly influenced my parenting choices.

Kids will always rise to our expectations!

4 – There is Tension or Stress

If there is tension in the home because of constant fighting or maybe financial pressures that spill over into your child’s world, they can internalize this as stress causing them to act out.

They will often not fully understand why they are acting this way because they don’t understand how stress affects the mind and body.

Also, if your child is under another type of stress like academic pressure or too many high-stress activities they may feel the need to blow off steam which often looks like getting into trouble.

We should be taking an intentional measure of our child’s stress levels by talking with them on a daily basis. Simple check-ins and one on one talks help to let your child know they’re not alone.

If you find that you fit into one of these reasons and feel overwhelmed, don’t be hard on yourself. Parenting is the hardest thing we’ll EVER do. Just make positive changes in the right direction every day and you’ll see the difference!

How to Respond When Your Child Disobeys on Purpose

When dealing with a disobedient child we should be focused on finding solutions as to why the disobedience is happening in the first place. Instead of being totally punishment-focused.

Here are 4 ways to handle deliberate disobedience:

1 – Pick Your Battles

Backtalk, intentional disrespect, and lying are non-negotiable offenses in our home that always get addressed in some way.

But there are days when my toddler wants to wear his Spiderman PJ’s or my daughter doesn’t want to eat what I cooked for dinner. Some days I dig in and others I don’t.

I pick my battles and live to fight another day.

2 – Hold Your Child Accountable

Part of good parenting is establishing those healthy boundaries we talked about. And the only way those boundaries are effective is if we hold our kids to them.

If your child repeatedly forgets to turn in their homework resulting in poor grades, you must have already established consequences set in advance.

After they fully understand what’s expected of them, it’s our job to be the enforcer. If we say they lose their phone for a month if their grade falls to a C, then they lose their phone for a month. Period.

3 – Offer an Explanation

So I know I’m probably getting some eye rolls from all you old-school parents. Trust me I hear you. I believe children should listen and obey regardless of whether an explanation is ever given.

But in the spirit of changing our kid’s behavior, sometimes a simple and very brief explanation can do wonders in making kids do what we’re asking.

There was a study done that showed how it was so much easier for a woman to cut in line if she offered a reason. Let’s face it, as adults we LOVE explanations. We don’t like it when people just ask us to do things and don’t offer a reason. Kids are the same.

Occasionally telling your kid why you need them to do something doesn’t make you a weak parent. I promise.

4 – Stay Calm and Firm

You are the parent. Losing your cool or entering into a debate or argument with your child undermines your authority. It also turns your power over to your child.

Kids are smart and will learn what pushes your buttons and what they can say or do to get you to give in out of frustration.

Though kids are skilled with the keen ability to set their parents off at a moment’s notice, we don’t have to take the bait.

We don’t yell and lose our cool at work or other places when people irritate us because we have self-control. We need to keep our control by acting like the adults we are even with our kids.


Parenting is hard and there’s never a day off. Just know that your desire to help your child make better choices is the starting point to healthy change.

And making meaningful connections with your kid your highest priority is going to help you tremendously on the hard days.

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