Notes on Parenting

Insights for parenting babies, toddlers, teens, and young adults.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

These Two Things Can Increase Compliance in Your Children!

A search on for “parenting” will return around 125,000 results. It’s pretty clear that parents everywhere want to know the “secret” to parenting. Many of those parents want to know how to increase obedience in their children. Thankfully, parenting researchers have identified a number of important things parents can do to increase the rate of obedience in children. Truthfully there’s not a “secret” ingredient to increase obedience from children, but some of the findings in research can significantly increase the rate of obedience. The two important techniques I want to highlight in this post come from older research studies, but are still taught in most evidence based parenting programs today. First, reduce the amount of commands you give your children. Second, remain silent for between five and ten seconds between commands.

Surprisingly, studies show when parents give too many commands or requests children become more disobedient. Yet, when parents want obedience, they tend to increase the amount of commands they give their children. For example, Forehand and Scarboro (1975) found merely doubling the amount of commands from six to twelve significantly increased the amount of non-compliance (disobedience) from children. Others have found a consistent connection between the number of parental requests and the probability of using harsh parenting techniques (Oldershaw, Walters, & Hall, 1989). Oldershaw and colleagues (1989) found a significant connection between the rate of child compliance (obedience) and the amount of commands given by parents. Parents who issued an average of 120 commands per hour achieved a 43% rate of non-compliance (disobedience); meaning children disobeyed almost half of parental requests. However, parents who issued an average of 75 commands per hour achieved a 35% rate of non-compliance (disobedience); meaning children disobeyed only 1/3 of parental requests. Mothers who used positive parenting techniques also made fewer requests per hour (75/hour) than those who used harsh parenting techniques (120/hour). These studies show that fewer parental requests actually increase child compliance.

Another early study found a significant association between compliance and waiting only 5 seconds after issuing a command. Roberts, McMahon, Forehand, & Humphreys (1978) divided 27 mothers into three training groups: command only, command and time-out, and placebo. The mothers in the command only group were taught that immediately after giving a command to their children, they should count slowly to 5 before giving a reminder or consequence. Mothers in the command and time-out training were taught the same as mothers in the command only, with the addition of how to implement time-out in instances of non-compliance. The placebo group was taught empathic listening skills. Amazingly, compliance to parental requests for the command only group went from 35% to 64%; when time-out was added, compliance increased to 83%. I find it interesting that just waiting five seconds after giving a command nearly doubled child obedience. Others have documented similar results, indicating that waiting between 5 to 15 seconds after asking a child to do something doubles the rate of obedience in children (Patterson & Forgatch, 2005).

One of the biggest complaints I hear from parents in my therapy office is, “my child doesn’t listen to me.” When parents aren’t listened too, or aren’t obeyed, they often feel disrespected. This feeling of disrespect can lead to harsh discipline tactics, and increased contention and resentment in the home. The research shows in order to reduce disobedience, parents should reduce the amount of commands children are given and wait longer before expecting compliance. Taken together, and used appropriately parents can increase the experience of harmony in the home.

  • What do you think? 
  • Will these techniques work in your home? 
  • Have you found success with other techniques?

Forehand, R., & Scarboro, M. E. (1975). An Analysis of Children’s Oppositional Behavior. Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology, 3(1). Retrieved from 

Oldershaw, L., Walters, G. C., & Hall, D. K. (1989). A Behavioral Approach to the Classification of Different Types of Physically Abusive Mothers. Merrill-Palmer Quarterly (1982-), 35(3), 255–279. 

Patterson, D. G. R., & Forgatch, D. M. S. (2005). Parents And Adolescents Living Together: Part 1, The Basics (2nd edition.). Champaign, Ill: Research Press. 

Roberts, M. W., McMahon, R. J., Forehand, R., & Humphreys, L. (1978). The effect of parental instruction-giving on child compliance. Behavior Therapy, 9(5), 793–798. doi:10.1016/S0005-7894(78)80009-4

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