By Elijah Chin, Counsellor at Epworth Family Welfare

Becoming a parent is one of the greatest joy in life. Parents work tirelessly to bring up their child, giving their all to build a loving parent-child relationship. But as soon as their child starts to disobey, the ideal loving relationship that they dreamt of starts to crumble. They have always lovingly tended to their child. How did their little angel become a little menace who wilfully refused to listen; and, whose tantrum spiral out of control?

Here, we explore a few possible reasons, and some ways that will help children listen to parents’ instructions.


A child’s Physical, Emotional and Situational (PES) status can affect his behaviour in different ways.


There are times when children’s physical discomfort puts them in a bad mood. Therefore, they are more likely to behave poorly and ignore instructions. Some common examples are hunger and tiredness. Children may also get too engrossed in playing that they may not be aware of these physical symptoms, which consequently affect their behaviour. Meeting the children’s physical needs first may yield some surprising results in getting them to listen.


When children refuse to listen to instructions or throw tantrums, parents would naturally see them as being disobedient but often fail to see the reason behind the misbehaviour. Sometimes children may have experienced a fearful event at school, or might be feeling upset for various reasons.

Unlike adults, children are not able to articulate their feelings clearly and seek help. Instead, they may behave in certain manners to soothe their feelings. Such behaviour may be the child’s cry for help.


Children’s behaviours are often affected by the situations that they are in. In environments that are too noisy or overstimulating, children may not have the capacity to respond appropriately. Unfamiliar environments may also arouse feelings of insecurity that may impair them from following instructions.

By anticipating such situations, parents can give their children instructions beforehand. However, if that is not possible, calming down the child or taking him out of the situation might be the most helpful.


Despite best efforts by parents to consider and maintain a good PES status for children, they may not always follow instructions. There will be situations where parents’ actions or responses will affect their child’s behaviour negatively. Some possible reasons include: not providing consistent rules and boundaries, and not providing clear instructions. Below are some helpful strategies that parents can employ to manage their child’s behaviour.

    Routines and schedules are always helpful to manage children’s behaviour. They help children learn what to expect. In this way, they will be less likely to show resistance when they have to move on from an enjoyable activity to a less interesting but necessary one. By being aware that there is a time limit to having fun, it helps children to manage their disappointment. As children are less able to keep track of time, it is important to give reminders that their play time is ending in 5 to 10 minutes. This prepares the children to stop their games. As such, they will show less resistance when time is up. Parents should be mindful about letting children negotiate for extra playtime. By allowing this, children may expect parents to give in to them whenever they negotiate for it in the future.
    Giving specific instructions will help children to obey. Vague instructions are confusing. Specific instructions help children to understand what they should be doing instead. For example, instead of simply yelling at children to stop when they are running around the house, parents can use short, simple and specific instructions instead, like: “Stop running” or “Sit on the sofa”. This is best done when parents have intervened to stop their children from running and have their children’s total attention. Additionally, children are more likely to listen to instructions if parents model the behaviour for them.
    It is important to remember that it takes practise, encouragement and time (PET) for children to develop a habit. Be it learning to follow a new schedule or doing a household chore, with practice, children will be able to maintain the new behaviour or habit for a longer period of time. Encouragement and praise also motivate children to behave better. When children demonstrate good behaviour or listen to instructions, use positive words of affirmation to acknowledge them. Then, children will be eager to repeat the good behaviour in the future to please their parents.

Most importantly, be patient. Consistently apply these strategies even if they do not seem to work at first. In a world of quick fixes and fad diet, changing a child’s behaviour requires a considerable amount of time and consistency. Parenting is a lifelong endeavour, and children are gifts of a lifetime.