What to do when they question your authority

Source: michaeljagdeo.wordpress.com

Question your authority? Never! :) However we may want to deny it, our kids will always question our authority. The point is that we need to have a plan for what to do when they do. We had a little interaction the other day that went like this:

  • My husband: “William, leave the stick here in the woods.”
  • William: “Why?” he asks as he holds on to the stick.
  • My husband: “As much as I hate to say it: because I said so.”
  • William: “But why can’t I bring the stick with me?”

It was pretty clear to my husband and me that William wasn’t genuinely curious about why he should leave sticks in the woods. He was trying to get my husband to change his mind about the stick. Asking why was his way of trying to hold on to that stick without directly defying my husband.

Nonetheless, no matter what was going on in his head, he was disobeying (delayed obedience is disobedience) and he was questioning my husband’s authority to tell him what to let go of the stick.

But it’s easy for parents to get caught up in the “why.” We always want to answer their questions and encourage their curiosity. And we may tell ourselves that they really do want to know the answer to their question.

So how do we handle this? Answer them AFTER they obey. If they truly are curious, they’ll still ask the question after they obey. If they don’t ask the question after they obey, then you know that they are questioning your authority. They are only asking “why” to get you to change your mind.

When my kids do ask “why” before obeying, I will simply say “yes, mommy” with an expectant tone, letting them know that the only acceptable response at that moment is “yes, mommy” and obedience.


  1. So what do you recommend for children starting school fulltime? My DD started fullday kindergarten and I see lots of issues already on day 3! I mean I know it’s a huge change and adjustment and i’m sure she is overstimulated,overtired,etc but she is also being mouthy and the “wise in her eyes” thing as everyone has told her what a big girl she is,etc. Anyways could you share your experience when yours started school and was around peers all day and only limited time at home? How did you handle this and what did you do at home/spend time on training,etc? Anyways appreciate any help on this transition.

  2. let me clarify an example….so when we say something and she doesn’t like it she argues and says “no, no, no, stop and listen” or something along those lines. This is to something at the breakfast table. Now we have to eat and rush to be to school in time so normally I could do something like “uh oh looks like you need to have some alone time til you are ready to talk respectful” or something like that but time doesn’t even allow to have a potential battle of wills this morning. I mean I don’t feel like I can ignore it and i told her in a firm voice we do not speak that way but I’m not sure if that is sufficient at age 5. if if i can’t followthrough i won’t issue a empty threat and like I said I don’t feel isolation/timeout,etc is an option and not the way to start off the day before school either.

  3. I get your point about delayed obedience is disobedience (Tedd Tripp also says that in his book) and I like your suggestion about answering the WHY question only after they have obeyed. That’s a great idea! Just out of curiosity, how old is William?

  4. YS, mornings before school are tough! It’s one of the top 5 reasons I homeschool. We were always in a rush, and they seemed to move slowly and not listen (more so than at any other time of day), and it just stressed me out in a major way. You’ll just have to work on the “wise in your own eyes” attitude when she’s home. And I was always cautious to choose a school that I knew had similar values as my own. So even when they were gone, I knew they were being taught important values.

    As for consequences, when you don’t have time for timeouts, I would try logical consequences. Take away her TV time or something similar. It’s hard though because I’m not sure it would change her behavior when it’s something that is so much later in the day. You could also discuss it with her teacher. Tell her you might be late a few days because you’re working on this and you need to take the time to do so. The teacher might even support you by reinforcing the message at school.

    But mostly, I think it’s important for you to be your most patient and set aside plenty of time to get ready. We always started off the school year fine, but when I started having to wake up in the dark, things went down hill. My friend wakes up a good 30-60 minutes before her daughter so she can drink coffee, read the paper, and just be ready.

  5. Talita, William just turned 8 last month.

  6. Thanks……..on the one hand i do agree in theory to have enough time to get ready in leisure but we leave the house around 7:50 max (and in winter i’m sure earlier will be needed) and i like them to sleep til 7 or at least rest as they have long days ahead of them…..i guess i could start earlier but i have 3 LO’s and I don’t really want the others waking up early and getting used to it. 7 seems fine to me!:) But the flip side is it’s not that leisurely and when there are issues I don’t have much time to deal with. We had 2 mornings of this past week and I told her i would deal with it in the PM. I think some is just that it’s a big adjustment for her and i think that is the root. I make sure she is well rested at least. How do you address the “wise in eyes” with them attitude?
    I maybe missed your post on homeschooling but do you like it? Do you plan to do it long-term? Our local district has a very good reputation and seems like a good school that follows Love & Logic methods. My main gripe is that it’s just too long and too many activities crammed in a day. They started fullday kinder the first time this year. They have a full day and they also do “specials” (like gym, library, art, music, etc) and they also have lots of extra things going on……..I personally feel the day is real filled and it’s a bit overstimulating for them but we are more low-key and not really the type that sign up for 10 activities and extracurricular activities. I just feel it’s a bit much for them at this young age. So i can see how the pace of homeschooling is a more relaxed atmosphere.

  7. YS, we are the same way when it comes to activities. That’s part of the reason I’m homeschooling. I want them to do activities, but I still want them to have time to play. We are in a “good” district, too. The only problem is everybody knows it. Our area is growing like crazy and there are just SO MANY kids. There are just too many kids and not enough adults, especially during recess and lunch. William is also ahead academically, and I’d hate to lose that. Couple that with his sensory issues, and he would act out, partly in boredom. So he’d be labeled a behavior problem for sure. We had these issues in private school, but at least they kept him challenged, and notified me when even the slightest behavior problems were going on. I fear that a public school teacher wouldn’t have the time or inclination to keep me involved. I just can’t let go of all of that control. Besides, we missed each other so much when they were in school!

    I’m sorry I don’t have any other answers for your difficult mornings. Oh, except that you might try some sort of chart/reward system. Make cards with all of her chores on it (pictures if she can’t read). That way, she can look to them to know what to do, instead of you having to remind her 100 times. You might even give her stickers or marbles in a marble jar for every card she does quickly and without argument. When the jar fills up, you go out for ice cream.