My 5 year old has just started primary school, and for the most part he's taking the change from Kindergarten very well. He was a little shocked by the fact that he had to sit and learn instead of playing all day but he's always taken to new experiences very well.

His teacher has commented on his surprisingly high confidence levels (something my wife and I have always tried to nurture as we are both very shy/quiet people) stating that, while most new students will not venture far from their classroom for the first few months, within two days they had to go looking for him after lunch and found him at the other end of the school playing "tackle" rugby with the 12 year olds.

My wife and I thought that was great. However the other side to this confidence is an increasing lack of respect for authority figures. My wife went to pick him up last week and found him in a Mexican standoff with the teacher and assistant teacher, refusing to pack his bag for home time because he had lost his water bottle and they wouldn't let him wander the school looking for it. The situation itself was (and still is) hilarious, and while I want him to stand up for himself I don't want to encourage him to defy teachers/authority figures so aggressively in the future.

How can I re-enforce the idea that he should do as he's told at school, even when he only wants to break the rules to do something positive (like find his lost belongings)? All without discouraging him from defending his ideas?

  • IMO don't worry too much about it. His peers and school teachers will instill him with a balanced behavior sooner rather than later. If not, adolescence and young adulthood will. Assuming he respects his parents you've already taught him what an authority figure is; peer learning will inculcate new figures into him. Aug 22, 2017 at 10:46
  • You're giving mixed signals. Do you want him to "think freely" or to listen to his teachers. If I'm confused, imagine how your toddler feels. Teaching him to stand up for himself against his teachers should not be necessary. You might think it's hilarious but chances are others do not. Aug 22, 2017 at 13:32

1 Answer 1


I would focus on role playing with him and helping him learn how to negotiate when needed, listen when that is warranted (which is the majority of the time at this age) and defy in the few instances where that is reasonable.

I do tell my kids that adults sometimes ,though rarely, could ask you to do something you believe mom or dad may not approve of or just isn't safe. In those cases, it is okay to refuse to do that and ask repeatedly for your mom or dad to confirm whether this is okay or not. I can give you an example that happened in my life. One child was at a friend's to play. He refused to get into their pool because the mom wasn't going to be with them. She even told me after the fact she told them to go swim "while she got things done". He knew this was a big no from me, so refused to comply, which resulted in me being called to get him because she was "too busy" to watch the kids. It also ended him ever going to play there again, obviously. The only defense I can give her is that all the kids could touch the bottom, but this is still a big no from me and my child knew this, so he complied with me versus her, so essentially he was still following rules, just my rules.

Another child was picked up for a play date. He came back in the house a few minutes later very upset. He said he was told to ride in the car without any carseat. I had told this mom if she needed his booster it was in my unlocked car. Instead she told him it was a short drive and he didn't need it. He is a rule follower, so when he felt he couldn't get out of the argument, he told her he had to pee, and came in to tell me.

So I have taught my kids that if they do not feel safe about what they are being told, they do not have to comply. I think this is reasonable, especially given that I have seen justified cases where they have exerted their defiance.

That said, they are also told to what they are told unless it feels unsafe and if they do not like what they are told, comply in the meantime and wait for me or dad. In this case, it seems likely that you would be permitted to walk him around to look for his water bottle, so waiting would likely resolve all of it. So perhaps focus on telling him that if he absolutely disagrees with someone of authority, hold his tongue, do as asked and then wait to talk it through with you. If he had a point and you think maybe he could have been permitted to do something, then you can advocate for him, if not, you can help him understand the "why not".

I think what you tell him is that at school teachers worry about everyone, not just him or his interests, so they cannot let him do some of the things he wants to do because they cannot allow all the kids to just do whatever each kids wants to do. Then maybe do a little work too on social skills. Learning how to get along well with teachers and other authority figures can serve you very well in life. In my house we are silly and fun about it and call them "dramatic reenactments", and I let the kid choose who has what part, inform us of what we are reenacting, etc. Then we talk about what the right and wrong way is to handle that situation. Sometimes I get to be the defiant kid and they are in charge and I get to drive them crazy with my "but why" questions. ;)

  • Gonna accept that right away, solid advice. Thanks for your opinions and I'll definitely start working on the "do as you're told while you wait for me or mum" thing. Thanks.
    – Wompguinea
    Aug 22, 2017 at 19:53

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