Why Your Child Won't Take Orders and What to Do

If your child won't take orders, they may need more love, understanding, and guidance or a different educational style. Learn more.
Why Your Child Won't Take Orders and What to Do
Elena Sanz Martín

Written and verified by the psychologist Elena Sanz Martín.

Last update: 22 April, 2023

Parents are responsible for the well-being of their children. They have to instill habits and values in them, and they have to make sure that their children lead an orderly and healthy life. But, for this to happen, they need their little ones to listen, pay attention, and follow their indications. For the same reason, when a child won’t take orders, disobeys, or defies authority, conflicts are a daily occurrence in the home.

It can be very frustrating for a parent when a child doesn’t follow directions. However, it’s important that we step back from our adult perception and understand the child’s perspective. Do you like being ordered around, having your life controlled by others, or your way of doing things imposed on you? Surely you don’t, and neither do your children. So, the key to getting them to cooperate isn’t to seek blind obedience but to really connect with them. Here’s why.

Should you worry if your child won’t take orders?

The fact that a child won’t take orders can be considered a positive sign of development. This means that they’re in the process of building their own identity, that they allow themself to question situations, and that they’re not a submissive and fearful infant. This minor rebelliousness shouldn’t be seen as a problem.

However, it’s also not a good thing if a child is systemically oppositional and defiant all the time. This hinders parent-child interaction, damages the bond, and prevents important lessons from being learned.

So, if you’re wondering at what point you should be concerned, here are some of the signs to look out for:

  • The child is hostile, irritable, or aggressive.
  • They constantly defy authority and refuse to obey.
  • They bother other people, treat them badly, or have problems with classmates, teachers, or family members.
  • They’re resentful and vindictive.
  • They lie, commit petty theft, or sometimes run away from home.
  • They don’t accept their mistakes, generally blame others, and don’t tolerate frustration.
A mother talking to her pre-school aged son, who's covering his ears.
When a child won’t take orders, it’s a good idea to review what’s going on, if it’s a typical rebellion of the age, if the child presents a problem, or if it’s the family dynamics that must change.

Why your child won’t take orders

Whether the above behaviors occur to a mild degree or in a persistent and intense way, there are several causes that can explain why your child won’t take orders. Among the main ones are the following:


Temperament is an innate tendency to perceive, think, feel, and act in a certain way. We’re born with it and it’s determined by biology. Therefore, some children have a difficult temperament that leads them to experience more negative emotions and to be more rebellious and irritable.

Developmental stage

It’s also important to consider the child’s developmental stage. At around two years of age, it’s common for a stage of defiance toward adults to emerge. At this time, the child discovers themself as an independent being and wants to assert their individuality. In addition, they may feel older and not want to receive help or take orders from anyone.

In addition, it’s important to consider the cognitive and emotional immaturity of childhood. Impulse control hasn’t yet developed and children haven’t yet acquired the tools to tolerate frustration. For this reason, they can be irrational, have emotional outbursts, or become irritable in certain situations.

Psychological disorders

Although disobedience and rebellion can be normal, it’s also possible that they respond to an externalizing disorder. These are those that involve a striking and maladaptive externalization of emotions and internal states that they don’t know how to manage. ADHD, oppositional defiant disorder, or intermittent explosive disorder are some of them.

Inadequate educational style

When parents are excessively authoritarian or too permissive, when they’re not coherent, and, above all, when they don’t know how to connect emotionally with their children, these types of behavioral problems may appear.

A young girl sticking out her tongue as a sign of defiance.
It’s common for the educational style used by parents to play a very relevant role in the refusal to cooperate of children. For this reason, the educational style and the example provided by adults should also be reviewed.

How to act if your child won’t take orders?

The good news is that none of the above causes imply a sentence. In all cases, it’s possible to intervene to make the child’s behavior improve and be more inclined to follow directives. Some of the guidelines in this regard are as follows:

  • Stay calm and don’t blame your child. Remember that children’s behavior always communicates a need and that’s what we must discover. Don’t take it personally, don’t label it as “bad” or “disobedient”, and try not to lose your temper. If you stay calm and control your emotions, you’ll be a great example for the child.
  • Give them some freedom, control, and decision-making power. Choosing among several options that you’re okay with can achieve this and will make your child feel heard, capable, and taken into account.
  • Teach them about their emotions. Help them to identify how they feel in each situation, name those feelings, and manage them appropriately. Instead of scolding them for expressing their anger, annoyance, or disgust, validate their emotions and teach them how to relax or channel them in a better way.
  • Set healthy and consistent boundaries. Rules are necessary, but it’s important that the child participates in establishing them, knows them, and understands why they exist. Also, the child must know what the consequences are. Likewise, it’s critical that parents form a united front on this issue and not constantly undermine one another or give in because then the limits aren0t firm or helpful.
  • Focus on creating a strong, healthy bond with your child. This is perhaps the most important point. Show love, affection, respect, and trust. Talk to them, put yourself in their shoes, explain situations to them, and help them think for themself. This way, they won’t feel that you only want to impose yourself on them, but rather, they’ll feel guided and accompanied to make the best decisions of their own free will.

Professional help may be necessary

Sometimes there may be a behavioral disorder that needs to be treated. Cognitive-behavioral psychotherapy is very effective in this regard, so consulting a professional can be of great help. Even if there’s no disorder involved, a child psychologist can help the child develop emotional tools and offer parents the guidance and guidelines they need to make a change.


All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.

  • Battagliese, G., Caccetta, M., Luppino, O. I., Baglioni, C., Cardi, V., Mancini, F., & Buonanno, C. (2015). Cognitive-behavioral therapy for externalizing disorders: A meta-analysis of treatment effectiveness. Behaviour Research and Therapy75, 60–71
  • Cornellà, J. (2010). ¿Qué es el temperamento? Anales de Pediatría Continuada, 8(5), 231-236

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.