Signs & Symptoms


Is your child disobedient?

Some children do not follow directions. You may say “get up and get dressed.” Twenty minutes later, you re-enter the bedroom to find your child wearing one sock and his underwear, staring out the bedroom window.

Sometimes, distractions can be a huge factor in following directions. Other times, children may not be able to shift attention from a preferred task to a non-preferred task very easily. The computer or TV can be reinforcing to a child, which means that it may capture his or her interest.

Your child may struggle to shift to doing something that is not fun, like making the bed or putting away laundry. You may ask 3 times for your child to complete a chore and get an “okay” followed by continued hyper-focus on finishing that level of his video game.

After touching your child on the arm he may say, “I didn’t hear you! You never told me!” Other children may simply declare, “I don’t want to” and proceed to have a temper tantrum. Often, you may feel it was not worth it to ask for that chore to be completed in the first place.

You may be surprised that your previously compliant child yells ‘NO’ in your face and wanders off to do his own thing. As a parent, you may scratching your head, wondering about where you went wrong.

What do challenges with Non-Compliance look like?

  • Not doing what you say?
  • Acting defiant?
  • Forgetting directions?
  • Saying, “I didn’t hear you?”
  • Making excuses for not getting things done?
  • Appearing unable to follow through with tasks you assign?
  • Huffing and puffing around when asked to do a small chore?
  • Not listening to the teacher or other adult?

Why is Non-Compliance happening?

Underlying problems for non-compliance could be comprehension, inattention or impulsivity, autism, behavior disorder, or emotional symptoms. It also may be a sign of a gifted profile. 


  • Gifted children often reject direction from authority and have somewhat of a non-conforming nature. In this case, it is important for parents to be more explicit about the rules and the rationale behind each rule. If you are consistent and persistent as a parent, you are doing your job. Do not expect immediate change, but rather expect for your child to learn accountability and to have gradually increasing responsibility. If, however, the behaviors do not gradually improve, it is time to look more closely at other potential issues or disabilities that may be getting in the way of your child’s behavior.
  • Comprehension: Another consideration when your child is not following directions is comprehension. Make sure your child knows what you are asking him or her to do. Have your child repeat back what he will do first. As soon as he does it, provide praise, and give the next direction. Do not assume your child is refusing to follow directions until you ensure your instructions are clear and easy to follow.
  • Attention issues: A child with attention, planning, organizing and impulsivity may be non-compliant with adult requests. Sometimes children  have difficulty focusing long enough to digest the information, and with planning and organizing their time to get tasks completed. 
  • Rigidity and challenges with change in routine can be related to autism. Often, children with prefer to do things their own way because of poor perspective taking, adherence to routines, repetitive behaviors, and non-functional rituals. Your child may not follow rules because he does not take the parent’s perspective to see the importance of the task.


The important thing to think about in the list above is, “does this behavior appear to be in my child’s control or not?” If it’s not, consider a visit with a psychologist or school counselor for support. If it is volitional, a behavioral therapist can likely help you get things under control.

How can I manage Non-Compliance at home?

If you are concerned about your child’s disobedience, take these few steps. First, make interactions with your child as pleasant and positive as possible. Only give an instruction you are prepared to enforce. If you are tired and don’t feel like a battle, don’t ask. Provide directions or instructions that your child is likely to follow.

As you increase the expectations, break things into manageable steps, one at a time, such as saying, “please get the sheets from the laundry” rather than, “fold the laundry and put it away.”

Provide motivating rewards for completion of tasks. Play a game as a family, have ice cream, earn a weekly trip to a dollar store, thrift shop, or shop the dollar bin at your local grocery store. If your child does not comply, do not provide the reward. However, make sure there are other times to try to earn rewards.

If a tantrum ensues, stay close by, remove attention and wait to see a behavior you like. Model calm behavior and avoid any arguments when your child is upset. Stay firm, calm, and consistent.

No matter what happens, always have some fun, relaxed, noncritical time together each day, even if this time is just 10 minutes to read a book. If you are still concerned about extreme or dangerous behaviors, consult with an Applied Behavior Analyst (ABA) right away (see information in Where to go for help section).

How can Clear Child Psychology help with Non-Compliance?

If your child is struggling with this symptom to the point that it is getting in the way of his or her learning, relationships, or happiness, it’s time to seek professional help.

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