How Often Can You Really Expect a Child to Obey

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You might feel hopeless when your child disobeys, but did you know it is NORMAL for a child to not always listen? Read proper expectations here.

Toddler looking over her shoulder with a burgundy ship-lap background

Chances are when you give your child of any age an instruction, you are hoping your child will obey. You want your child to listen and the reason you have told your child something is because it needs to happen.

Am I on the right track?

Chances are also very high that there are times your child does not listen to you.

Stab to the heart!

When your child does not listen, you can quickly wonder what you have done wrong and/or what is wrong with your child’s daily life to lead to this disobedience. 

It can be a very good idea to look to yourself and make sure you don’t need to change something about the way you are parenting. It is also a good idea to wonder if your child needs a change to the schedule or routine somehow. 

But sometimes your child disobeys simply because your child is a child

Not only that, your child is a human child

Humans are notorious for pushing boundaries and doing things they have been told not to. When is the last time you did something you knew you shouldn’t (like…maybe trying to make it to that appointment you might be late for or something…)?

We humans make mistakes. 

How often can you really expect obedience from your toddler, preschooler, or child with a picture of a toddler looking over her shoulder

Realistic Expectations for Obedience

In short, your child will not obey you perfectly.

We set high goals. That is good. We also need to set realistic expectations to go hand in hand with those goals. 

In On Becoming Toddlerwise, the authors Gary Ezzo and Robert Bucknam give a list of compliance percentages to expect from different age groups. These percentages are well worth taking note of and ingraining in your memory.

I think most Babywise moms are the type to strive for 100%. When we don’t get 100% from our children, we start to worry why they are being so disobedient.

Notice that I said “when” and not “if.”

When your child disobeys.

If you look at life realistically, you can’t expect 100% from your child. Just as you aren’t perfect, your child isn’t perfect. Your child can’t perform perfectly. Everyone makes mistakes.

So what can you reasonably expect? I believe the percentages given in Toddlerwise will leave you feeling happy. They are quite attainable:

  • 2 Year Old: For a two year old, or toddler, obedience means that he “complies with your instructions at least sixty percent of the time” (page 94) 60%
  • 3 Year Old: For a three year old, or preschooler, you are aiming for 70%
  • 5 Year Old: For a five year old, you can reasonably expect 85%-90%

As you look at these percentages, think of them as building on each other. If you start today to expect first time obedience from your five year old, do not erroneously think you will get 85-90% based on the age. You will have to work up to it.

With that in mind, do not expect 60% from your toddler if you have not yet been expecting your toddler to obey. If you did not set discipline foundations for your baby, you will need to build those now and work up to 60% listening rates. 


Read: Discipline Methods for Baby 10 Months and Up


How To Handle Disobedience

Does this mean you expect 60% and then allow things to slide 40% of the time?

No.

You still work on obedience 100% of the time. You still correct your child during that 40% of the time that your child disobeys. Read up on my tips on the basics of discipline here if you need help getting started. 

What you do not do is freak out. You don’t freak out and wonder why your child is so difficult. You do not think you are a terrible failure and you do not think your child is a lost cause.

You do not start to question what is going to happen during the teenage years because your child is clearly unable to control himself.

Take a deep breath and work toward getting a higher percentage in the future. You attain a higher percentage in the future by responding correctly now. You correct, you stay calm, and you move forward. 

Childishness vs. Foolishness: Responding When Kids Disobey

Are you worried this is going to give your child low expectations? Having high expectations can be good, but too high can be bad. Toddlerwise warns against having too high of expectations. If you set the bar too high too early “it will only lead to frustration for you and the child” (page 95). You want to set your child up for success. Conversely, if you set the bar too low, your child will be out of control.

Correct, but stay loving and positive. 


Read: How To Deal With Toddler Tantrums


Pinnable image with a picture of a toddler looking over her shoulder

Conclusion

Remember your child is learning as he grows. Rome wasn’t built in a day, so the saying goes. Your child’s self-control won’t be mastered in a day. Is your self-control mastered? Probably not. There are probably areas you are weak in. Your child will work on this throughout his lifetime. It is a process for everyone. Have some patience and help your child be the best he can for his age. He will get there.

Get Your -Wise series books here

On Becoming Pottywise
On Becoming Teenwise
On Becoming Preteenwise
On Becoming Childwise
On Becoming Preschoolwise
On Becoming Toddlerwise
On Becoming Pre-Toddlerwise
On Becoming Babywise Book 2
On Becoming Babywise
On Becoming Pottywise
On Becoming Teenwise
On Becoming Preteenwise
On Becoming Childwise
On Becoming Preschoolwise
On Becoming Toddlerwise
On Becoming Pre-Toddlerwise
On Becoming Babywise Book 2
On Becoming Babywise

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valplowman
valplowman

Valerie, also known as The Babywise Mom, is the mother to four children. She has been blogging on Babywise and general parenting since 2007. She has a degree in technical writing and loves using those skills to help parents be the best parents they can be! Read her book, The Babywise Mom Nap Guide, to get help on sleep from birth through the preschool years. You can also find her writing at Babywise.life, Today Parenting, and Her View From Home. Read more about Valerie and her family on the About page. Follow her on FacebookPinterest, and Instagram for more tips and helps.

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6 Comments

  1. Tanya Hebert
    May 25, 2009 / 9:17 PM

    Thanks for this reminder. My husband and I try to remember this as often as we can — it really does help us realize that Abby (our almost 3 yr old) is doing well. I still read your blog everyday – and I tell others about it. You are a blessing!

  2. Plowmanators
    June 25, 2009 / 9:41 PM

    Thanks Tanya!

  3. Jackie
    March 30, 2010 / 1:22 PM

    Just curious – what about the almost 2 year old? It seems he understands exactly what he's doing wrong when he spits or hits because he smiles as if he got away with something and when we say no no he does it again! We've started the naughty step which is affective for 30 sec – no longer – but he sometimes goes back to hitting as soon as we pick him up off the step.

  4. Plowmanators
    April 13, 2010 / 10:48 PM

    The almost two year old would be under 60%–but close to it.See the discipline blog label or the blog index under discipline for lots of different ideas on discipline.

  5. Josie
    May 29, 2019 / 12:49 PM

    Thank you so much for posting this! Your blog is very helpful!

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