In the morning there are lots of things to be done before heading off to preschool. I'm acting like a policeman every morning to get those things done and to push my child to go out. Every day I have to remind her: You have to do this and this and this and this to be ready to go out. She asked me today:

Why you [parent] can tell me [child] what I have to do and why I can't tell you [what to do]?

On the spot I figured out:

Because I'm an adult and you are a kid.

She looked at me without any understanding, this response did not convince her.

She refused to do anything from then on and didn't want to go to preschool. I felt like it was kind of you have no answer to that question, so I don't have to obey you.

Is there a good response to the question that doesn't imply she's the victim and I am the lord of her soul or policeman/prison guard.

  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat.
    – Joe
    Commented Dec 12, 2019 at 17:38

15 Answers 15


Try to go along this line:

There are rules that exist for everyone. I have to go to work. You have to go to school. I tell you about the rules because I know them; I don't just make them up to bother you. Sometime, I will simplify a rule or regroup a few "grownup rules" for you. Because there are other, more complicated, rules that I can't directly explain to you.

Don't forget that sometimes you will be the bad guy.

Yes, you yanked her arm and it hurt and it's not fun and she really wanted to chase her ball. But she didn't rush into the street under a speeding car.

Your kid is not your friend. You have responsibility for her health, for her education and for her overall well being. It would not be a normal relationship with a friend. It can change later, but she is 5.

Society has rules that individual people could do without, but are needed for the society to function. You have to teach those rules, written or not, to your daughter. You probably do this out of love as much as out of responsibility, so that one day, she might do the same down the line.

Going to school is not a choice; it's a rule. And, at 5, she has to learn to follow the rules, before getting to the point where she can judge, overcome or break them.

  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat.
    – Joe
    Commented Dec 12, 2019 at 17:39

Seems to me this is something where the truth is a good answer.

You are responsible for her, because of her lack of experience and lack of maturity. The more she can show maturity, the less you need to boss her around. If she can get ready herself without you telling her to - so much the better for both of you!

  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat.
    – Joe
    Commented Dec 13, 2019 at 18:05

I think you have a perfect opportunity to wow her.

She should be able to tell you what to do.

In the morning we need to brush our teeth. If I forget, you will tell me to brush my teeth. If you want, we can brush our teeth together. We can help each other remember.

We are a family. We are a team. We should all help each other remember our tasks. You'll help me remember my tasks and I'll help you remember yours.

Edit: in response to @dwizum's concern. I think the biggest mistake we all make as parents is not giving our kids enough credit. These rules are not complicated. We can explain why you need to brush your teeth and why we need to put our shoes on. I think we can all have better relationships with our kids if we NEVER say the words "because I said so.". If you can't explain it to a 5 year old, you don't understand it. If you don't understand it, it's not a good rule.
Personally, I do not want to raise my kids to do anything just because someone said so. Also, as fellow humans, I think kids are much more likely to behave in a certain way if they believe in its value. A positive side-effect will be greater maturity from your kids when they know that everything has a reason. Perhaps you can even ask them, why do you think I want you to go to bed?

  • 2
    This was my instinctive answer to the question, too. "Okay, it's your turn to tell me to do something!" As with everything, there's no silver bullet, and this will obviously not work every time, but it's a nice break from being the bad guy. Commented Dec 10, 2019 at 19:22
  • 35
    The potential risk in this answer is painting a picture where a mature adult who understands how the world works have given their immature child who doesn't really know much at all the impression that they are equals when it comes to decision making or interpreting rules. Yes, we can give each other reminders, but ultimately that is different than being able to tell each other what to do. I don't know if a child will be able to determine the difference between telling someone "brush your teeth!" versus knowing whether or not teeth brushing is required in the general sense.
    – dwizum
    Commented Dec 10, 2019 at 21:19
  • 8
    I have done this with my daughter to some degree. There's a bit of a challenge along the lines of dwizum's comments. However, I did notice an interesting pattern. If I give her a rule, we almost always see it come back out of her. Either she mirrors the rule to us (like vbp13's answer), or we see her apply it to her dolls as though she was the parent. Often this proves to be a useful check regarding her comprehension of the rule in the first place. All of my daughter's dolls are well trained in rattlesnake avoidance, and to ask before petting strangers' dogs.
    – Cort Ammon
    Commented Dec 11, 2019 at 0:42
  • 5
    Agree with one exception: I would insist that the kid does as told first and then asks for explanation after. Because in an emergency situation, you don't want to discuss a why. Someone could be harmed by the time you're done. That's why you should teach a kid to listen to you.
    – Tom
    Commented Dec 11, 2019 at 12:55
  • 6
    @Aaron Kids usually don't have trouble responding properly to things like that. The thing is, people shout at kids all the time when there is no real danger, and also ignore when the kids are trying to get their attention. If I shout "stop", my kid stops - he knows I wouldn't do that lightly. Sadly, most kids and adults learn quickly to ignore things like that, because everyone is constantly demanding their undivided attention :) When everything has the highest priority, nothing does.
    – Luaan
    Commented Dec 12, 2019 at 9:36

You don't have to explain on the spot. You can just say "i don't have time to explain, you're already late for school. Just do it and i can explain later".

This serves the dual purpose of making her get her shoes on, but also the concept that there are appropriate times and places for questions - Some things have to wait until other people are not waiting on you. Nobody wants to raise "That Guy" who keeps holding everyone up by asking valid, but extremely poorly timed, questions.

If you have lots of energy at the end of the day, you can explain something along the lines of "everyone has to get ready in the morning. Your teachers had to do everything you do, the bus drivers too - every adult does. I'm just here to make sure you do it until you're old enough to do it yourself. That's my job - to make sure you know how to do what adults do."

  • 10
    If you have lots of energy at the end of the day no, no, no. You promised a response, you need to deliver it. Make a commitment, and stick to it. Vague phrases like "I'll tell you later" don't exactly help you build up trust - they just become the automatic answer, and the kid quickly learns what you're really saying - "Stop bothering me."
    – Luaan
    Commented Dec 12, 2019 at 9:41
  • 4
    A good compromise might be, "I'll explain why we need to brush our teeth while you're doing it. Let's get started!" Then you can use the time it takes them to do the task to provide the explanation.
    – dwizum
    Commented Dec 12, 2019 at 14:08
  • 1
    ^^ Ah yes, parenting humor is lost on some. I think anyone who has a kid, reading this, would have gotten it. I doubt anyone would have taken "if you have lots of energy" quite so literally.
    – Knetic
    Commented Dec 13, 2019 at 1:20
  • 1
    @Knetic Humor and sarcasm don't translate well in written mediums, because it lacks indicators like tone of voice or body language to indicate that you aren't completely serious.
    – nick012000
    Commented Dec 13, 2019 at 5:28
  • 1
    @ dwizum: I tried that and it came out as ghbmnjmn pklopkjkk cdfff. Commented Dec 13, 2019 at 13:24

I don't think there's a good response to that question. I think it's more about handling all the little things. I'll try to explain what we do in the morning.

Each action have a different reason. When we do each action we usually talk to the kid about it (repeating often). Example: when brushing theet, we say "what did you eat? ok, I'm removing all the pieces of food so that bacteria don't destroy your theet, ect...". Repeating it everyday in different ways just get stuck in their head.

We make sure to have a routine and have the same routine as the child so that it's the same everyday. It also look like a family thing instead of a "just you" thing. At first it was mostly "we all need to get prepared before we can play".
- eat, clean table, dress up, brush theet

If they do everything quickly enought, the "natural" reward is time to play.

We give them enough choice as possible. Always between options that we want. Like plate color, thootpaste taste, ...

We also try to prepare the previous day as much as possible
- "what do you want to eat tomorow?"
- put all dishes, cups, cleaning towel at kids level
- "what do you want to wear tomorow?" (but they can chose to change)

We try to make things fun but not to much. They like to build a "person" with their clothes on the bed while choosing. We let them throw their sock at the door near their boots, …

When things are calm, we explain our day, explaining that we also need to do things we don't like before doing things that we like. Explain that we also have chores.

There are things that I let the child have the consequence by themselves. Especially for those short term consequence that don't have long term effect. But they need to fix the problem.

Sometime, we also say "After diner when everything is done, I'll let you tell me what to do" which can be a very fun game for the kids.


It's the old "My kids want to go eat ice cream and pick up a puppy on the way back, and I have to pretend it's not the best plan ever?!" side of parenting.

Kids want to be treated as the adults they clearly aren't, so I tend to meet them halfway; and they feel grownup by (somewhat) looking down on smaller kids. So at five, they're smart enough to be either able to look back at 2-3y old self (and remember how they were unable to safely cross the road), or they can see examples of smaller kids around (chasing balls without considering traffic, or behaviour in supermarkets etc -- you'll easily see poor/shortsighted choices). So they'll see it was your role then to stop them and make them do everything, and before that hold their toothbrush, and so forth.

As the other answers said: There's thousands of rules and mechanisms they'll learn one by one, faster and faster; you are the parent that understands them (with the occasional error) and are hence in charge of drawing the line which moves daily. Just like kiddo can cook or bake for you once they are safe to handle (ovens, fires, boiling water) and can follow a recipe, so they can make pancakes but still won't be in charge of the turkey.

So my take is as most answers, but stressing the empathic part, the placing themselves into a younger/older child's shoes. And then saying you can be wrong occasionally (and/or losing patience!); as they'll get older they'll more often spot things you overlook. But for now what they know used to know is a drop, what they know is a glass and what they don't know a lake (or barrel, or ocean --- you choose).


I went with “I may not be right all the time, but I’m trying to help you”...

One case was about putting on the outdoor coat: “I don’t want my coat”

Ok, your choice. 10 minutes later, kid now cold as the wind is bitter, “I’m cold”...

Would you like your coat? Where is it? Then I relented and said I brought it anyway... Now do you understand why we ask you to do things...

It got easier after that, not perfect, but easier.


You can spend their entire childhood struggling with your kid with arguing, explaining, rationalizing, and resisting, or you can teach them the truth of the situation:

1) Ultimately you are the legal, security, and economic authority over them, the child. If they get hurt or sick, YOU the parent pays for it. If they break a window YOU pay for it. If they want a toy, YOU pay for it. Paying for it might mean hours at work, or getting in trouble with the police, or having to clean up after them, or social consequences, etc. It would be much less work for you if they had less toys, had less visits with friends, weren't allowed to do anything remotely risky (fun), and if they did more work around the house.

2) You don't want to do that to them, because you love them and you would rather you both had a good time.

3) They can make their case, complain, try to convince, suggest things, ask for things, even argue, but when you invoke your authority as a parent, that's when it stops - otherwise privileges start disappearing fast. "Why?" Because when they do whatever they want, the consequences fall on YOU. So if they cooperate, you can be friends instead of their boss.

If every time your kid wants to do something that you don't want them to do, you reduce it to a back and forth discussion about why, what will they do when you're not there to discuss with them? You've taught them that if they don't have a reason to do what you instructed, they don't have to listen. Effectively the decision is now contingent on their reasoning, not your authority. If they were ready for that responsibility, you wouldn't be telling them what to do in the first place.

By all means, give reasons, explain, negotiate, etc, but the bedrock reason has to be because you're in charge, because that's the reality of the situation.


I really like most of the other answers so far, but one idea I haven't seen yet, but I do myself is to sit down with her at a time when you're not running around with other things and make up some rules together.

Let her (with a little prodding from you) come up with the rules and let her come up with appropriate consequences if the rules aren't met. If she comes up with a rule that you don't like, talk it out with her so that she knows what is wrong with the rule.

If she has a problem with the rules then let her talk it out and explain why she doesn't think it's fair. Then try and come to a compromise that you are both happy with. Also, it might help to write down the rules just to make them more official and you can always go back and point to it when she breaks the rules.


Its easy to fall into the trap of playing dictator with my kids. Do this... Do that.. Despite my best efforts, they get on my nerves some times, and there isn't really much to be done about it. Getting out the door on time is a constant struggle. More often than not, I fail to abide by my own rules.

That being said, the approach that should be followed is to simply give orders with a reason... Here are some examples:

  • Me: Please put on your gloves.
  • Kid: I don't want to.
  • Me: We need to put on our gloves so that our hands don't get cold.
  • Kid: I don't want to.
  • Me: You know that if you hands are out in the cold for a very long time, then it is really bad for your hands. You could get sick, or if your hands get really cold, then we might need to take you to the hospital for frostbite.

Another example:

  • Me: Please brush your teeth.
  • Kid: I don't want to.
  • Me: We need to brush our teeth so that we don't get cavities.
  • Kid: I don't want to.
  • Me: If you get cavities, then you have to go to the dentist.
  • Kid: I don't care.
  • Me: But if the cavities get really bad, they will have to pull your teeth out. And if you don't have teeth, you won't be able to eat (insert kids favorite food).

Almost everything that we do as parents is done for a reason. Try to get the kid to understand why we are doing the things we do. I found that this approach started working with my daughter around 3 years old. The younger kids don't understand. But generally at about 3, they do.

  • 5
    I am not sure if scaring kids of dental treatment is a good idea.
    – lalala
    Commented Dec 11, 2019 at 13:42
  • @lalala , agree that scaring is a bad thing. But it's good to tell the reason for parent's requirements. I'd say, tell something like "you brush your teeth to keep them healthy". And if child still unhappy, you tell Joe's answer - I am responsible for you, when you grow up, you will decide for yourself. Commented Dec 12, 2019 at 8:32
  • 1
    I guess it works if you skip "you have to go to the dentist" as a step, and go straight to "they will have to pull your teeth out." Commented Dec 13, 2019 at 12:42

Is it even true that you can tell her what to do and she cannot tell you what to do? I think you only have rights to persuade her to do things, in the best case with a good explanation. So talk to her about the reasons of your "commands", that you want all the best for her and explain how what you do is good. It's the best to ask "How do you think - why?" before explaining one's self because it stimulates a speaker to think about the case themselves and lets them understand it deeplier.


-Apologies for the long answer!-

My main philosophy

For me, I've always found its key to respect your child, treat them as much as possible like an adult and they will come to respect you in return.

The "because I said so" always falls down at some point because at some point they will question why, whether its because they are now older/bigger/'smarter' etc. But "Trust me you need to" makes sense as long as they do in fact trust you.

My General Approach

When you have a disagreement and there is time to break it down I think its important to kneel down (get on their level) and give them the chance to speak, give their reasons and then you can counter them.

With things like going to school, if its a discussion your having the night before you can talk about how adults have to go to work to earn money and children have to go to school to learn and that its important, and that as parents we would get in trouble if you didn't go. Then top it off with, and you have fun don't you? you have friends there don't you? you like your teacher etc. I feel this is important because your not just giving them the rules "the way it is" but positive reasons they will like on a personal level. It is also a great opportunity for them to tell you things you might not know and possibly the real reason they don't want to go such as "X person has been hitting me".

If you do this for the things you can then when there is a rush you can use "You need to trust me" because hopefully they will. I re-iterate often with them "When i am using this voice you need to do what i'm saying because its important. So when it comes to a dangerous scenario or a time sensitive issue, I can use that voice and they know implicitly "you know you need to do what i'm saying now, we can talk about it more later". Tricky part of this, is if you get it working, not to use it simply when its convenient, e.g "tidy your room" (I've made that mistake!). Even if you're sick of re-explaining the reasons why tidying your room is important, if you start overusing the "important voice" they will stop seeing it as important. I feel this fundamentally keeps them safe when out and about. Even for lateness I try and emphasise we are late (which they recognise as a bad thing, for example he knows if we are late for his swimming lesson, he gets less time in the pool, which he loves). But I would be lying if I said i had never used it when I shouldn't lol. No one is perfect, but I do try and talk to them later and apologise for shouting etc and explain how their actions lead to it but that i'm sorry and I love them. Again just trying to treat them with the respect that I would extend to a friend or my partner.

How I would approach your current issue

So in your specific scenario, make time to talk to them in the evening and talk to them,


"Why you [parent] can tell me [child] what I have to do and why I can't tell you [what to do]?"

I would bring up what she said and answer this with something like

"Sometimes its important that you listen to me, and sometimes its important that I listen to you. If you have a game that you want me to play, you want me to listen right? Otherwise i don't know how to play the game. Its not so much i'm doing what you tell me to do, i'm doing what I want you to do, because I love you and I want to play games with you. And if you ask me for something I need to listen right? So that I can consider it. But I need you to do things for me too, some of those things you might not think you want to do, but you do need to do them. You might not want to brush your teeth but I know that if you font they will get broken and poorly and you wouldn't like that would you?" (it might seem like a lot but as long as the examples resonate, you will be surprised how understanding a young child can be)

You might want to segway this into a discussion about leaving for school or address it on a different day. Personally I would probably try to do it on a separate day. You could try something like what I had above with your own personal points try and add personal points like:

" you have been not wanting to go to preschool lately, I know you would rather stay with me, but I do have to <> because <> and it is important that you go to school, you get to learn <___> and you get to see your friends: "

Then you can point out that they wouldn't want to stop going completely because they would miss out on those things they like. As for lateness this is often harder, mine used to have breakfast at nursery that they would miss if we were late, sometimes they only thing you can do is explain why being late is bad for you and how that impacts things (e.g. more money = more fun things)

The important point is about the listening, i might say something like:

So in the mornings can you listen to me please, I want us to start the day well and have a nice goodbye, that would be a nice way to start right? So if i'm ___ then I need you to listen to me right away, not because i'm telling you what to do, but because I need you to trust me because i'm just tying to make sure we can be on time and have a good day, if you do have reasons that you don't want to go, I 100% want to hear them, but sometimes we have to leave that until later and sometimes you really do need to listen to me, right away because its important"

You might want to have a separate conversation about safety and when its really REALLY important to listen. I have one particular way of saying "STOP" that i reserve for potentially dangerous scenarios and they know they absolutely have to freeze.

Other things we mix in

We use 1, 2, 3 whenever we can/remember its a great way of showing things are getting serious without raising your voice (trust me, that still happens, but it helps us do it less), it's good for time sensitive issues too :) "put on your wellies", "no", "sorry, im going to start counting, we need to go", "no", "1"....

We also had a system for a while of green tokens and red tokens, so they knew a 3 was going to be a red token (if they did nice things or even just went to school well they might get a green). Then we translated those into consequences, e.g if they have more green tokens then red at the end of the week we watch a film at the weekend. This can work really well, but lately we have phased out the tokens because they were starting to say "will i get a green token for this" :p (kids work out how to exploit systems fast! :p).

Conclusion There is no silver bullet and you will have to have this kind of conversation a lot if you want to stick with this idea as apposed to "because i said so" and you might have to mix up your consequences. But personally I think its worth it, no ones perfect and you will slip up and end up feeling like you were a shitty parent for a few weeks sometimes but to be honest I try and let my kids know that too, as long as you remind them you love them and all that jazz kids are pretty accepting of your flaws and I prefer that kind of relationship with my kids to a "i'm right your wrong" relationship, I'm sure its probably harder, but most things worth doing are.

Good luck, you will figure out your own path i'm sure :)


I think you are asking the wrong question here. Most very young children like pre-school (and school for that matter). It is highly likely she is putting up resistance to something about school without being able to articulate it. Maybe you need to be asking her WHY she doesn't want to go to pre-school and solve the real problem, not the symptom.


A lesson of power and the unfairness of the world

This is a good moment for one of the most important life lessons a person can have:

I am larger than you, I can beat you, and you can't beat me.

I have money to buy food, and you don't, without me you would starve.

I am older and I believe that I can judge better than you. If you don't agree, we can discuss, that's good. But I have the final word, and you don't, because I have the power.

In life, many decisions of how to live come down to personal belief, and there might be no good reason why your child should share your belief.

It will be bitter, but it will make the world sweeter later on for your child.

  • 6
    This is one of the most disheartening answers I have ever read on this site. There are many people larger than I am, but let them lay a and on me and I will have the police on them like white on rice. Might does not make right; money is not the answer to injustice. If a child actually adopts the worldview you propose, they will accept all kinds of abuse as "normal". Commented Dec 12, 2019 at 3:41
  • 3
    This is the most true answer I've seen yet. The foundation of society is the more powerful enforcing laws through threat or act of violence. Family relationships are essentially mini models of society. Commented Dec 12, 2019 at 16:59
  • 1
    @anongoodnurse It's still the same thing. The government is the biggest person around.
    – nick012000
    Commented Dec 13, 2019 at 5:46
  • 1
    I concur with @anongoodnurse I personally want a child who feels like they can challenge authority when they see injustice. I don't want to raise a mindless zombie to the state or indeed to me, i'm wrong sometimes too, helps to know it. Commented Dec 13, 2019 at 15:10

Depending on her maturity, you should give her some variation of "The universe is a hierarchy of authority, with God at the top. You are subject to me because I am your parent and that is how God designed things, just as I am subject to my employer and others. There will come a day when people are subject to you, but it is not now." If you have a pet, you can tell her the pet is subject to her authority because she is human and the pet is an animal. So she won't be an idiot, explain why the command you are giving is the best option whenever possible, but when she disagrees that you have chosen well, your only defense is "God made me responsible for you." The knowledge that God is in charge will provide her life with meaning and value that she will not find otherwise, and, apart from the spiritual, her question has no real rational answer that leaves you in charge.

  • 4
    apart from the spiritual, her question has no real rational answer that leaves you in charge I don't think that's true in any way Commented Dec 11, 2019 at 15:50
  • 2
    This is an answer, but it is rooted in a harmful view of God, men, and especially women. -1 (from a Christian to boot.) Also, this answer leaves no room to believe that people who do not believe as you do are capable of leading lives as full (or fuller) of contentment and fulfillment as yours. Commented Dec 12, 2019 at 3:49
  • 2
    Snork. The knowledge that some god is in charge of my life would leave me bewildered and angry at all the things said god allows (or causes) to happen.
    – JRE
    Commented Dec 12, 2019 at 17:02
  • @anongoodnurse "This is an answer, but it is rooted in a harmful view of God, men, and especially women." I don't think so, though I think the answer could probably be improved by citing scripture to back it up. Take a look at Ephesians 5:21-33, for instance, though that passage is talking about husbands and wives rather than parents and children.
    – nick012000
    Commented Dec 13, 2019 at 5:51
  • @nick012000 - My experiences led me to my conclusion. Let us respectfully disagree. Commented Dec 13, 2019 at 7:27

You must log in to answer this question.

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