My 8-year-old right away repeats the things she is forbidden from doing.

For example, when she is told not to sing at the dinner table she will right away start singing in a lower tone.

This is not the case 100% of the time, but it is still noticeable, and she seems to do it on purpose.

How should I respond to such behavior?

  • 11
    Ask her why she keeps singing.
    – Erik
    Jul 13, 2015 at 7:14
  • I really like asking her why and then reacting appropriately. If you ask and her response is "I don't know" then maybe tell her to take a time out so she can meditate on why she would do something you just asked her not to do.
    – user7678
    Jul 13, 2015 at 12:37

8 Answers 8


I've read that children often overhear the "not" part of a request --

Instead of saying "don't do X" they hear "do X".
Instead of telling what not to do, tell them what you want them to do.
Instead of saying "don't sing at the dinner table", say "dinner time is only for talking."

In your example, she seems to have an urge to sing - because she can't stop, although she tries to follow your request. It sounds kinda sweet, the way you describe it, but I can see it can be annoying to you. Perhaps she has not had enough opportunity before dinner to get all that activity out of her system?

Adult schedules can be jarring and not fitting well with whatever kids are doing right then. I've learned that it's very helpful to give kids a count-down for important events like dinner, leaving the house, leaving the playground/friends' place, etc. -- I give them a clear and short announcement ten minutes in advance, then five, then two, then zero. If they're really into something at the time, I give them earlier warning and spend the last few minutes helping them finish up so that we're really ready to go in time.

It's also worth considering how severe the problem is. Singing at the table might be annoying, but what harm is being done? I'm just mentioning this for your consideration; some things are really disruptive, other things might be tolerated (some of the time).

  • 6
    "Dinner time time is for talking" Isn't dinner time for eating? More seriously, though, there are other ways to avoid the simple not that can "skipped". For example, you could focus on when she can sing ("You can sing after dinner, not right now.") or - for example - you can reword the sentence to make the not less skippable ("I don't want you to sing right now" or "You're not allowed to sing during dinner time").
    – Jasper
    Jul 13, 2015 at 15:13
  • 1
    @LightnessRacesinOrbit It was a joke about how about how "Dinner time is for talking" might be taken to mean it's only for talking, thus not allowing your child to eat. (And, with kids it's always important to be careful it isn't taken as such, as some kids will take things to literally.)
    – Jasper
    Jul 13, 2015 at 15:47
  • 1
    Jasper caught me! I was aware of the "only for talking" trap, and any six year old would pounce on that with glee. Give me a better phrasing and I'll update the answer :-) Jul 13, 2015 at 17:48
  • I really agree with the idea of suggesting something else: "Dinner time is for talking." Requesting something to do works a lot more than requesting something not to do. Jul 13, 2015 at 19:37
  • 10
    In all honesty, I find this is true in most people, not just children. Like really, the entire answer. Focusing on the desired action instead of the undesired action, advanced notice before making a change, and sometimes learning to just "deal with it" are all effective techniques for kids and adults alike. The only thing missing is exploring the motivation behind it. "Do you want more time to sing? Singing lessons? Is that a cool song you like?" If nothing else, that gets them talking instead of singing, right? =)
    – corsiKa
    Jul 13, 2015 at 21:39

Children, but adults also, tend to accept request better if you motivate it. I know it can be hard sometimes, but that also forces you to think about WHY you're exactly asking that and eventually not even ask.

  • Please stop singing cause mommy is tired and would appreciate a little silence.
  • Please put your jacket cause it's raining outside and if you're wet you might get sick
  • ...

It is even more true if this is a changing situation that the child might not realize, e.g. : she sometimes sing without you asking to stop, why are you even asking now ?

By helping her measuring the impact her actions have, you make her more prone to be reasonable and empathic and accept not just because you tell/ask her, but because that's the best thing to do right now.

  • Getting sick from going out wet is a fairytale, and old myth, one of many false old wives' tales about the common cold (which is a misnomer, it's caused by a virus). You will not get sick from going out wet, even if your hair freezes. Wind will not get you sick either.
    – Haider
    Aug 11, 2015 at 15:13

I've found that even though I'm speaking the same language they know, they sometimes don't fully hear or understand, and even when they do they believe that if they change their activity slightly then the problem will be resolved without having to cease it entirely.

So before I assume ill intent, I first assess whether they understand what I'm asking. Then I ask them to evaluate if what they're doing violates my request. Usually these two things alone will resolve the situation, but in some cases I also have to make a different rule/request to get them to comply if they won't obey the simple request or rule. This might go as follows:

Child: singing
Me: Please stop singing, [child's name].
Child: continues singing
Me: [child's name, repeated if necessary, until I have their attention]
Child: Yes? (or looks at me)
Me: I've asked you to stop singing. Why are you still singing?
Child: I don't know. (or some variation or excuse, I didn't hear you, etc.)
Me: Well, I'd still like you to stop. Would you like me to ask you to be silent instead, or do you think you can stop singing?
Child: I will try to stop singing.
Me: Thank you.

After that, I'll remind as needed, the issue is that there's a lot going on in their head and they will absentmindedly start performing the undesired action again. At that age they aren't necessarily pushing boundaries intentionally.

Also, consider that they are bored. Engage them in discussion, sing with them, challenge them, etc. If they are living so much in their head when you are in a group setting, see if you can get them out a little and become more engaged and present. This may mean putting off the discussion about planning or finances until later and discussing something the children will find more interesting. Or relate what you're talking about to them and engage them that way.

Note that if you don't teach them to be present while they are young, they may end up being "phone zombies" as teenagers. When they aren't interested in what's going on around them, rather than trying to engage they'll simply pull back further and entertain themselves. This is learned behavior.

  • 2
    "Also, consider that they are bored." - this seems like an overlooked angle.
    – user3143
    Jul 13, 2015 at 17:14
  • 2
    Most people don't remember what it was like being a kid. If they did, such interactions would be much easier. I remember (age 2) trying to think of an action that wasn't on the prohibited list to achieve the desired result, with no concept that it was that result in general that was unwanted.
    – JDługosz
    Jul 14, 2015 at 23:10

Humans communicate very ambiguously, requiring a lot of cultural experience to be able to discern our full meaning. Eight-year-olds are right in the sweet spot, where it seems like they should know your full meaning, but they often don't.

For example, if my eight-year-old is doing something like singing at an inappropriate time, and I ask him to "please be quiet," he often takes that to mean literally "sing quietly." If I ask him to "please stop singing," he doesn't realize that humming would also be inappropriate in the same cultural context. I try very hard not to hold him responsible for subtleties of communication he hasn't fully learned yet.

The other thing about being eight years old is you still can't occupy your mind with abstract thought like adults do. You need to actively do something. Without some sort of substitute activity, you'll slip back into singing without even being aware of it, the same way a bored adult's mind goes elsewhere without that being a conscious decision.

That means a negatively-phrased request like "please don't sing at the dinner table" is not as effective as a positively-phrased request with a substitute activity, like "please eat and listen quietly to your brother's story."


I think you should ignore her and try not to get attached to the outcome of such behaviours.

Because, may be she likes singing and probably thinks why are you having trouble with her singing. If it annoys you may be try to engage her by giving her some job or start asking questions about her friends, schools, home work and listen to her and keep the conversation. In other words, try to divert her so she starts thinking about other things.

Even adults sometimes sing songs when idle or in good mood. If she is in good mood and singing songs then I won't be annoyed with her songs.

  • I agree, diversion is a good tactic. I don't think the OP should ignore the behavior, though - that runs the risk of teaching her daughter that it's okay to ignore Mom or Dad when they say no.
    – Jerenda
    Jul 14, 2015 at 23:48

Let me relate a story just happened last night:

My son (12 yrs old) was playing the piano, after that he was quite pleased and happy with his own play, and thereafter clapped for himself, and most important he was doing it happily....not in anyway of disturbing others. But this clap posed too "noisy" for my wife, who equally make lots of noises but nobody complained, and asked my son to stop the noise - and even warned him not to repeat again. I can see my son visibly affected and kept quiet and do other things after that.

This story just summarize so many common traits among human beings:

a. We all needed to feel loved and loves as well. Respect is mutual. Often disrespect/not listening to instructions etc.....is NOT the fault of recipient ALONE - it most likely is caused by the parent. (children are innocent and need to be taught, and purposely not following instructions may be a sign of rebel - for an age of 8 yrs old - which I will blame it 90% on the parent). Similarly I blame it upon myself if my kids disrepect me. But then "disrespect" is really just ONE example of misbehavior - there are so many others form of expression - all of which can classify as "loving" and "non-loving" environment (to simplify everything). In a loving environment, everything is done with love, with mutual respect, with happiness, with do-it-unto-yourself-what-you-want-others-to-do-unto-you attitudes. Enough said.

b. Teaching by examples: when it comes to behavioral change - most of us are strong-headed, and will not let others dictate our behavior easily. So don't teach others how to behave. Show others your behavior by example, and others will follow you.

c. When kid is young, too many rules and regulations stifled their creativity and freedom of expression. And their young minds may not understand fully the meaning/implications/reason for these rules and regulation. For my kid - rules anywhere they go are simple and easy to remember: anything in the house that can cause electrocution, or fire, or endanger their own life - is not to be touched. So playing with electric plugs - I will beat their hand to indicate a strong NO. And 100% of time all my kids easily followed these simple rules.

d. They often picked up expressions/behavioral habits from friends (and even books!!! ie, outside your control, and the above "learning by examples" no longer applies), and so ultimately their behavior is not just solely your fault/control - so many other factors are involved. And so don't bother these unnecessarily. Social pressure will teach them how to behave correctly. Well, I am still learning how to behave myself when I am trying to write these things down. So don't waste your time unnecessarily.


Children need to be taught, "not now." And to defer their desires until "later."

Tell your daughter that you will allow her to sing "after dinner" at a time and location more to your liking.

But tell her that she cannot sing "right now" because you and she are at the dinner table.

And tell her that if she continues to sing "right now," you will not allow her to sing "later."


spare the rod and spoil the 8 year old child. If you beat her occasionally, it will make her stop her "kiddishness"

  • 1
    Who talked about beating the child? I'm not sure how this answers the question. Could you clarify?
    – Stephie
    Jul 14, 2015 at 13:10
  • its clearly a case of gross indiscipline. The question is "how should i respond". answer is by disciplining her.
    – Dr Deo
    Jul 14, 2015 at 13:12
  • 2
    "occasionally" -- when she's not doing anything wrong and that will prevent further misbehavior? each and every time she tests a boundary, even just a little bit? This is a pretty broad simplification, and likely to cause other trouble.
    – Acire
    Jul 14, 2015 at 14:19
  • 1
    This will teach her that she doesn't deserve to be treated like a person, and that behaviors she doesn't like in others should be solved with violence.
    – VGR
    Jul 14, 2015 at 20:29

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