Raising our two-year-old, my wife and I have slightly different views on how to get our child to obey instructions, such as "get in the car seat" and "put on your shirt."

One of us feels that it is important to explain to the child why he has to do what he's doing and get the child to feel like he wants to do it ("let's get in the car so that we can go visit Joey") as well as offer trades and bargains ("if you get in the car, I'll let you take your teddy bear with us").

The other feels that it is important to teach the child that his role in the family is simply to obey, even if he doesn't agree or understand why; and frequently offering trades and explanations undermines that end, teaching him that he doesn't have to do as he's told, but rather is entitled to bargain his way into better positions.

I imagine the best solution is somewhere between the two.

But are there any studies or relevant objective insights that might influence which strategy to emphasize at a given age?

  • 1
    I don't feel it's wise to make the child think they have input and can bargain for anything that the parent hands down. A lot of things are non-negotiable and the child can't be expected to have a reasonable input at that age. However, even when saying "this is how it is" there's no reason you can't explain WHY it is and has to be that way, without making it seem like an explanation makes it optional. Commented Sep 19, 2016 at 17:05

10 Answers 10


Explaining the reason tasks are required will help the child gain an understanding of tasks. It is developmentally important that children understand tasks - what we are doing and why so as they get older, they can reason through tasks themselves. However, bargaining, while tempting, sets a precedence of ever heightening "price" for compliance. This teaches a child that they can extort a price for every task you ask of them.

From a variety of things I have read, it is important to find a balance between the two styles mentioned above. The ultra authoritarian perspective of Do it because I say so, period, is likely to lead to resentment in addition to stunting the child's ability to problem solve and reason thought tasks. The bargaining will be hard to break the child of as they age. Behavior is learned and the child is learning that if they hold out, there will be some extrinsic value to completing every day tasks.

An amazing resource that looks at balanced parenting in No, Why Kids of All Ages Need to Hear it and Ways Parents can say It by David Walsh. It touches on bargaining for tasks. It does not really address the overly authoritarian parenting style, but may be able to provide some ideas for finding a parenting style that is consistent between both parents.

It is NEVER good for parents to be in a position of extreme opposite parenting styles. It is confusing to the child and leads to possible resentment towards one parent. Balanced is the best, but togetherness is essential. Parents need to be a unified team.

  • 9
    +1 I agree with you completely. I was never offered bribes and 90+% of the time, I had the reason explained to me at the time. I was told in advance that situations may arise where an explanation must wait until later and that if my parent insisted, just trust them and obey with the understanding that it will be explained as soon as it is safe/polite/etc.. My parents didn't abuse the 'tell you later' clause, had good reasons, and as a result, I willingly complied and rarely-to-never needed enforcement. Commented Dec 16, 2011 at 5:32

I teach my children when they ask Why about an instruction, that I will explain why AFTER they follow the instructions, in this way they learn to follow the instruction and get to know why.

  • 5
    Nice trick! Every little thing counts when you're in a hurry :-) Commented Dec 12, 2011 at 21:12
  • I've gotta try that!
    – user106
    Commented Dec 14, 2011 at 13:27
  • 2
    I take the same approach, and I explain it as being due to safety. If they are about to step in front of a moving vehicle, I want them to stop NOW. Not later. Commented Dec 16, 2011 at 18:59
  • This has the extra positive of trying to get the kid to work it out before you tell them and any self thinking in an attempt to understand things is great. Commented Dec 21, 2011 at 1:26
  • I do the same thing! Was this, by any chance, inspired by Ex. 24:7 - "... we will do, and [then] we will hear"? Commented Dec 29, 2011 at 23:16

One objective reason for the obey first, ask questions later approach is that when your child is in imminent danger, you don't have time for explanations and negotiations. Also, children that young do not plan ahead to act in their own best interests, even by their own definitions. They will cry for an hour because they want to play instead of putting a shirt on, when the logical thing to do is spend a minute putting the shirt on so they can play longer afterward.

One objective reason for the explain and negotiate approach is that there are some things you absolutely cannot do unless your child buys into it, like potty training. It plain does not work to order your child to go potty. They need to understand the reasons or have a sufficient reward in order to take the initiative.

The balanced approach is to teach that there are some situations where it's okay to object, and some where you just have to take your parents' word for it and obey. You can't hit your sister, but you can choose which shoes to wear. It doesn't make sense to negotiate with anyone, whether with your children or in business, unless you are prepared to say the price is too high and walk away.


I have found that reasoning with them growing up has paid off as my kids are getting older. They realize that I am not asking them to do things unreasonably. After knowing the reason why they are doing something they often come up with a different or better way of doing something to achieve the goal. I have refrained from locking the power windows in the car and have just asked them not to play with them because its annoying to the driver (among other reasons). I think this instills a more thinking discipline of thinking about others before they make an action rather than just refraining for an unknown reason.

For safety concerns, we certainly will make a command in an urgent voice, but I don't think that has to do with the two reasons brought up. I would yell at an adult to "stop!" or "Look out!" if they were in danger as well. After the call to action has happened, we always go over what could have happened or some of the consequences of an action.

I also agree that bargaining (different than reasoning) is a slippery slope and something to be avoided. I do sometimes offer them a choice between doing a chore or getting punished (losing privileges) and then doing the chore. That seems to be a bargain they don't really try to repeat.

  • 1
    I completely agree with this: Always offer a reason when you can. If you cannot because there is no time, or because it might hurt them in some way to learn the reason (this might apply to sexual things below say 9 - 13). This way, they will trust that you have a good reason, even when you cannot tell it to them. If you often use "because I said so", when you do not have a good reason, or it appears that you do not, then that is when it will just be ignored.
    – Nico Burns
    Commented Dec 16, 2011 at 1:47

I have to admit, I HATED hearing, "Because I said so!" from my father and I promised myself I wouldn't use it on my children.

If I tell my son to go wash his hands before dinner and he says, "Why?" I tell him to look at his hands (usually dirty from crayons, markers, whatever he was getting into while outside,e tc) and ask him, "Do you want to eat what's on your hands? I know I wouldn't - clean hands are much better to eat with." He's not yet at the age where he's questioning EVERYTHING though.

My daughter on the other hand (yeah yeah, the apple and all that) was absolutely curious about absolutely everything. I bought her a child's chemistry set for her birthday when she was 10, and she asked if she could carry it on the plane back to her father, and I told her "No, it has to go in your luggage under the plane." She (of course) asked, "Why, Mama?" and my father chimed in with, "Because your mother said so!"

I turned to my father and said, "That is not an acceptable answer. It wasn't for me when I was young, and I refuse to use it with my child." I then turned to Vanessa and said, "Because it contains a lot of powders and some chemicals which could make it hard for others on the plane to breathe should you spill them."

She thought about that and said, "You're right Mama. It should go in my baggage." and that was the end of that.

  • 1
    Although in that specific case, another reason is that if she attempted to carry the chemistry set through security, she would either lose it forever or have to send it through the mail, and there's a good possibility that she (and any adult she was with) would be detained for a long time. Why? Because that's a rule held by a powerful authority that doesn't negotiate.
    – philosodad
    Commented Mar 22, 2013 at 2:57

I do a balance of both. We have what we call Reason #0, which is understood to be the following:

Mommy and Daddy love you very much, and our job is to keep you safe and help you avoid making bad mistakes. If we ask you to do something, it's because we want you to be happy.

I never felt 'good' about saying because I said so, even though I must admit I've said it in moments of frustration. I want our child to think critically, and questioning what seems to be an odd instruction is an exercise in that. At the same time, I really need her to listen to us, and you can't expect everyone in life to explain their requests all of the time (teachers, bosses, etc).

It's at the point now (at six years of age) where if she doesn't get an answer to why?, she just understands that it's something important that we expect her to do and (generally) just does it. Sometimes she does it with quite a bit of protest, but she still does it.

I do explain my reasoning quite often, provided there's time and it would actually make sense to her.


Children at this age thrive on routine. When you tell them "If you do x, y will happen", they just don't get it. So whichever one of you thinks you have to reason with your child needs to hit the developmental psychology books and get a clue.

This isn't some academic drivel on my part. I'm the proud father of a happy two-year-old boy who knows what to expect and what is expected of him. He might not know "why" yet and frankly he couldn't care less. We'll help him gradually understand as he matures. These things take time, so you just have to make the most of the present situation. And in the present, you can teach your toddler good habits.


I didn't see anywhere that this choice is relevant only on explainable questions. But many "order" received from the parents are simply not possible to explain with words, or too complex for this age. For instance, how do you explain (and should you?) to your kid why he or she should not pull of pants in public. The answer I would give is "Human being don't do that", which is not an explanation at all, and goes without saying.

Moreover, I like my kid to experiment by himself many things. so, for instance, if he is pushing around a big chair dangerously, I will say "be careful" loud enough, but if not too dangerous I'll let him go to the obvious result of him falling down under it. Then I'll say "I told you to be careful". I think this way is maybe more sticky than explaining in lengths why pushing a chair is no good, while not allowing the kid to experiment by himself the reason why. Obviously not applicable in all cases, though.

Another middle-way to explain things that is not reported here is to say "because you will make your parents very sad if you do it". It is not a rational reason, it is emotional, but I think it is still better than bargaining.


You are Both Right. The key is in finding a balance. I tend to have reasoned too much with Alice and so often when I needed her just to obey because we are in a hurry, or I can't get into all the ways because of the audience etc as she got older, she required too much "reasoning with". Here are some things I learned when she was just a little older than yours is now that really helped rebalance us.

Sticking with methods that do not include a reasoning aspect doesn't allow your child to see you model how you think through decisions, ask questions to help them make decisions in the future, or simply understand the rule to apply it later without you needing to step in, but, to keep things balanced, I suggest not engaging in "reasoning" that takes more than a two to three sentences most of the time. If it requires a whole paragraph from you, or is becoming a lot of back and forth, your child is probably not fully grasping all of it any way and may not be ready to understand this particular set of "reasons".

That said, bribing is not a good idea. Convincing because of the good things that are already coming if you child "gets into the car", for example, is different. Never say he or she has a choice if there is no real choice in the matter. Ultimately, you are the boss but you can still explain why you've made the choice you've made (briefly).

I would also personally avoid, "because I said so" and replace it with a variety of things like. "I need you to trust me right now, we'll talk about it later" or "because that is what I need right now". Its really just a style choice, but I find it to be more open to conversation later, than "because I said so - the reasoning part can happen later as they get older".

Lastly, I would suggest that when you can give your child an option, do so. It will empower him/her at times when that is okay so that you can also say, "I let you decide a lot of things - right now, you need to let me decide this one". PLUS it gives your child the opportunity to practice decision making. Look up and Read, "Parenting with Love and Logic" for more information.


You and the mother of your kid are a team. If you were not, you could just split apart, isnt it?

When you are a manager of a department and you want to build your own team, you have basically two philosophies: -You can focus on peoples weakness and force people to improve in every aspect they are bad, never recognizing their strenghts -Or you focus on what people can do well, and assign the tasks to them so that everybody is using their strenghts, and sometime or the other you also give people the chance to improve their weakness.

The mother of my kid (we are separeted) wants him to do everything by brute force (thats my interpretation). If he is playing with a DVD, she will have a very agressive body language (in my opinion) and tell him: -GIVE ME THE DVD. You can clearly see that he gets intimidated, it causes embarassment to both of them, and this takes some minutes until its solved.

I just got near and proposed a trade: I showed him another object which was much more interesting than the DVD, and he was quite happy to make the "trade", or to take the most interesting object. In this case, I see it as a win-win situation: The kid got something even better that they wanted, and you too.

So, the only problem is if you dont define it as "proposing a trade", or "giving an alternative", but start to see it as a bribery. The problem is than not the action, but the mindset behind it.

I never liked the style of the mother of my kid for parenting, but once I was trying to put the kid to sleep by myself for ours, and it didnt work. I asked for her advice, and she told me I should put him on the room and, if he was unquiet to sleep, that I should leave the room and tell him that I was coming back as soon as he would be quiet. He didnt like it, and I felt horrible, but after 5 minutes he was sleeping!

On my method, it was taking two hours and stressing everybody, but using the method of the mother (which I usually see as harsh), it worked pretty well.

So I think the queston is not to decide if "proposing a trade" is ALWAYS bad or not, its just a question of feeling in which situation the "trade system" is better, and in which the "do because I know its good for you" is better!

Well, I hope I helped :)


You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .