Why I Want To Raise A Disobedient Daughter

Why I want to raise a disobedient daughter

When I’m in a restaurant and I see children sitting quietly, colouring and sipping on a glass of milk, while their parents chat and eat, I feel quietly impressed. I might even turn to whoever I’m with and say, “Wow, what well behaved children, they’re clearly being brought up well.” It’s fair to say we offer a lot of praise towards parents who raise well behaved children.

In contrast, my daughter is usually the child in the restaurant SHOUTING EVERYTHING (why don’t three-year-olds have a volume dial?), standing on her chair, putting crayons in a glass and shaking them to listen to the rattle it makes, crying and moaning when she drops her colouring sheet (“MUMMY! Pick it uuuuuuup…….. please.”) and refusing to eat the majority of her lunch.

But, actually, I don’t mind.

If given the choice between raising a well behaved obedient child and a challenging child with spirit, I’d go for the latter, every time. Yes, it’s stressful and tiring and it can reduce even the calmest of parents to tears, but many of the traits we think are bad in a child, are seen as brilliant traits in an adult.

Questioning things – it drives me up the wall when my three-year-old asks “Why?” around 89 times a day. Sometimes it’s cute (“Why are you wearing that jacket?”) and sometimes it’s frustrating (“Why do I have to go to bed? I’m NOT TIRED”… usually followed by a yawn and a rub of the eyes) but in the grown up world, I want her to question things and ask why. I want her to look at how things work and wonder whether they can work better a different way. Some of the people we admire the most are the ones who question things.

Saying no – the current battle we have most days with our daughter is us asking her to hold our hand and her refusing to. She’s enjoying not using a buggy and that feeling of independence is extending to wanting to walk on her own without holding Mummy or Daddy’s hand. All well and good but when we’re on a busy street or a main road, there’s no way I’m letting her toddle along on her own. It usually goes something like this:

Me: Hold my hand, please.

Her: No.

Me: Come on, we’re on a busy road. I don’t want a car to squish you.

Her: They won’t.

Me: They might if you don’t hold my hand. Come on…

Her: Noooooo!

Me: I’m going to count to 3…

And so it goes on, until she holds my hand. Not a fun way to spend five minutes most days and if you walked past this exchange, you’d be forgiven for thinking the child was on a slippery slope to becoming a juvenile delinquent, but saying no is a skill that’s important to learn. How often do you hear your friends say: “I just need to learn to say ‘no’ more”? Saying no shows strength, it helps us focus only on the things that we value and gives you control of a situation.

Being naughty – whether it’s drawing on the table, scratching another child, pouring water on the floor at lunchtime, my three-year-old does plenty of naughty things. We’re forever taking her to one side and explaining why she can’t do that. We’re forever trying new tactics to encourage good behaviour – sticker charts, rewards like using the iPad or having some chocolate raisins, and removing bedtime stories if she misbehaves. Natural instinct (saying things like ‘because I said so’ and punishing bad behaviour – mirroring how we were brought up) wrestles with newer parenting ideas (explaining logical arguments and analysing why the bad behaviour is occurring) and all the while, ideas are being swapped with fellow parents who are experiencing the same thing. In the grown up world, of course, bad behaviour isn’t a good thing. But the reason that a lot of kids misbehave is to get attention – and that’s not a bad thing. Adults who strive to be noticed will progress in work and get to where they want to be.

A Guardian article from 2012 was shared amongst lots of my parent friends this week and in it, the writer Annalisa Barbieri is questioning why we are so keen to ‘tame’ our children. She quotes Alfie Kohn, author of Unconditional Parenting – Moving From Rewards and Punishment to Love and Reason, who says, “You can threaten or bribe a child into obedience for a little while, but you are missing the big picture and failing to address the underlying cause [of why they may not want to do something] which may be environmental – such as rushing a tired child through an unfamiliar place – or they may be psychological, such as fear about something else. A very obedient or compliant child – it depends, some are more docile by temperament – but others have created a false self because they sense their parent will only love them if they are obedient. The need for autonomy doesn’t vanish because kids have been cowed into doing what they’re told.”

I sent the article to my mum – someone who I know shares my belief that ‘spirited’ kids grow up to be adults who make something of themselves – and she replied saying that she was made to feel like a bad parent when my brother and I were young. Both my brother and I were.. how can I put this… a bloody nightmare as kids. I challenged teachers at school, I was regularly moved to sit on my own in class (sometimes my desk was placed in the corridor) and I was placed ‘on report’ as young as six for doing delightful things like hitting my classmates and drawing on their school shirts. SORRY MUM.

But my mum’s point in her email to me was that despite my bad behaviour and despite her being made to feel like a bad parent, I’ve grown up to be OK. I know right from wrong, I’ve got myself a good career and I’m (fairly) sensible. So I’d rather have a child who wreaks havoc and questions things and digs her heels in. If she grows up to use those traits in a positive way, and becomes a strong female adult, I’ll be so proud of her.



  1. I think it’s interesting how we define a good kid. I was the exact opposite. While I was boldly opinionated and quite the drama queen, I was as good as gold. I was that kid that didn’t need to be asked to do their homework or revise. I never came home drunk or puked in my parents’ flower tubs. It seems, almost, that my rebellious streak caught hold as I grew into an adult. I haven’t done much by the book – but, like you, I’ve a good career under my belt, and I’ve made something of myself. I see a lot of myself in my son – hell, he’s my double – and I just want him to be himself. He can be that gorgeous kid eating olives and raising his beaker saying “cheers” in a restaurant, but the next minute he can be the devil who throws everything on the floor and throws his head back in rage and planks as best as he can in a high chair in protest. Kids. They’re unpredictable. But their individual. I’ll give them that. xx

  2. May 29, 2014 / 10:23 am

    Yes, yes, Alison! I think the key here is not to stifle children’s spirits. While some children and adults are naturally quiet and calm others just aren’t and it’s our job as parents to nurture them and parent *them* and not try and turn them into something that they aren’t. As you know I’m a mum of two very spirited girls that constantly keep me on my toes – and I wouldn’t want it any other way! Xx

  3. May 29, 2014 / 10:46 am

    love this post!!! I don’t want the ‘good’ kid that just does as they are told always… I love that my kids question everything and will say ‘NO’. Having said that, they are also incredible when we are out – they’ve always been around adults, and treated as people not babies even as toddlers so they are not kids who will scream and shout in a restaurant as they no it’s not fair on others in there – tehy understand that we have to respect other people, and that some places are for running around and making noise {playgrounds etc} while others {like a restaurant} are not

  4. May 29, 2014 / 11:45 am

    Lol at this. We generally have a ‘good child’. He’ll scoff everything in sight in restaurants so that keeps him quiet and he’ll generally sit nicely. But his volume button is definitely set to loud, and I’m a bit concerned that he doesn’t ask why? all the time. (What’s that? but not why?).

    I think kids have to have a bit of gumption about them, and a bit of confidence, and as long as they’re not being dangerous or hurting people, then if the situation’s appropriate I’m all for letting them have a bit of freedom to explore and show interest in what’s around them. I know I would – I’m a people watcher and discusser of opinions, but I guess adults have just learnt to do it more discretely. I was a bit concerned yesterday at nursery when for the first time his key worker said – ‘N’s been a bit of the instigator of over the top play today’. Turned out that he’d decided he was taking over leading his best friend in play and stretching what they could do, and was beginning to make his voice heard over everyone else for the first time. I was quite proud, because he’s always usually quiet, so it’s nice to see him being a bit bossy, and they didn’t do anything naughty – I think it was just a bit of a shock to the nursery staff as he’s usually the one quietly playing on his own.

    If everyone had quiet and obedient children, what on earth would parents talk or moan about!?

  5. May 29, 2014 / 12:53 pm

    Hmmm I have two teenagers and a baby, my older ones behave impeccably in restaurants and when we take them out in general. They always have done. The baby (so far) is well behaved but we haven’t got to the dreaded toddler years yet. I have to say though, my older well behaved children are completely free-spirited, fun-loving individuals with their own quirky personalities. They just know how and have been taught how to behave nicely in a restaurant!

    • Alison Perry
      May 29, 2014 / 2:51 pm

      Hi Amy, the restaurant thing is just one example – I”m not saying that all kids who behave well in restaurants will grow up to be door mats. That’s just where my daughter does a lot of her misbehaving and it’s so public!! Your kids all sound fantastic and being spirited doesn’t manifest itself in the same way in all kids. Thank you for reading and commenting! 🙂

  6. May 29, 2014 / 1:06 pm

    i was (and am haha) a mix between the obedient child and the spirited-always-asking-questions child! i think it’s nice to have a mix, but in the end as long as the child is happy and the parent isn’t pulling their hair out too much, then that’s what’s important hey 🙂

    • Alison Perry
      May 29, 2014 / 2:52 pm


  7. May 29, 2014 / 1:55 pm

    My boys are going to be bloody amazing adults because they’re very “strong willed” and “spirited”.

    I do agree though, as much as I loathe them being naughty and I’m often thinking about gin before 10am, I am secretly proud of them in a weird way.

    • Alison Perry
      May 29, 2014 / 2:53 pm

      Pre-10am gin? Now THERE’S a topic for the #badmumsclub 😉

  8. May 29, 2014 / 2:42 pm

    Loved this, society and schooling is so keen on raising conformists, it frustrates me…like you, I have always been a non-conformist, I thrived at sixth form and uni because I felt valued and could be myself, whereas I hated and felt stifled throughout school.

    Let our kids have personalities I say and start we all need to start supporting individuality and in some cases rebellion, it’s formative and natural and creates leaders in our kids and for the future!

  9. May 29, 2014 / 3:05 pm

    We’ve got one of those too! Bit of shock when the first one was so compliant and easy going. I love Poppy’s spirit and how she has only two switches: passion or despair. She’s a delight to be with, seriously funny, never dull and although, exhausting we’d all agree in our house that we wouldn’t want her any other way. Better dash…she’s just decapitated a My Little Pony…! Here’s to spirited boys and girls.

  10. May 29, 2014 / 4:48 pm

    I remember reading a US blog when I was pregnant and she talked about her ‘spirited’ child, and I just thought it was psychobable speak for ‘naughty.’ But turns out we also have a spirited child too! Lots of my thoughts on this have been completely changed since reading Toddlercalm (G is probably too old but it’s amazing stuff). Basically I’m paraphrasing, but she talks about how we don’t expect children to speak like adults, so why should we expect them to behave like us? And that lots of what adults think of as negative behaviour is children not really knowing how to express themselves, so we shouldn’t punish them for it, we just need to know how to communicate with them more effectively. Anyway, I’m rambling, but brilliant post.

  11. May 29, 2014 / 8:13 pm

    I think it’s all about balance, and knowing the difference between accepting (and celebrating) a child for who he or she is rather than trying to make them something or someone they’re not. F is JUST like I was as a child. She’s moved from being a spirited baby to a spirited child – just as I was. She’s always been fiercely independent, known her own mind and known what she wants. She’s quieter at pre-school and has never been in trouble there, but that’s what I was like too – keen to have things my own way but desperate to be liked and popular (I’m the same now!). The job I now do as a grown up reflects my personality and wouldn’t surprise anyone who knew me as a child. On the other hand though, my sister was quieter and more easy-going (sleeping through the night, fewer tantrums etc) as a kid. Like me she was never in trouble at school either. She’s now a doctor with a thriving career, relationship and friends. So NOT being disobedient certainly didn’t put her on the back foot. My husband’s a teacher and often says there’s a fine line between kids with “spark” who question, debate and don’t always accept answers and those who are just downright disobedient, deliberately try to sabotage lessons for others and aren’t interested in learning. I think kids do need boundaries, but that doesn’t have to been quelling or trying to “break” natural spirit. Great post – sorry for the essay! x

    • Alison Perry
      May 29, 2014 / 8:28 pm

      Definitely Molly. Interesting to hear your husband’s take on it. I would place money on all of my teachers thinking I was the latter (honestly I was AWFUL at school) and they’d be really surprised at how well turned out I am. Ha!
      And absolutely – I don’t think that all obedient children are going to grow up to be doormats and not make anything of themselves, more that the kids who we see as being ‘naughty’ are actually probably going to turn out just great. I think F & G would get on very well (and probably fight like crazy).

  12. May 30, 2014 / 7:34 am

    I love this post – you’ve given a voice to the things I try and tell myself when I’m in the depths of despair over my son’t behaviour! He’s very physical, and is constantly challenging boundaries, as well as refusing to accept things he doesn’t like, especially if he doesn’t understand them fully. It’s exhausting! My younger daughter, on the other hand, has a completely different personality. She’s a lot more reserved, but she does say ‘no’ to me a lot these days (terrible 2s….). Hurray for the woman she’s going to become!

  13. May 30, 2014 / 2:14 pm

    I have to say that my children are pretty well behaved. The oldest always has been and that just seems to rub off on the younger two (to some extent!!)….but they certainly are their own fun loving little people and certainly not doormats. I also think there’s a difference between being spirited and questioning everything and being rude. Interesting post!

  14. May 30, 2014 / 11:22 pm

    I turned into the church hill nodding dog throughout this post Alison!! Brilliant read. Xx (short comment, it’s late & my brain power has disappeared!) xx

  15. May 31, 2014 / 12:21 am

    I have a spirited three year old daughter too. She’s a wild child, a free spirit, independent through and through. And I wouldn’t have her any other way. She’s not naughty or badly behaved though, but she’s not placid and she definitely knows her own mind. If we’re out at a restaurant, she could easily be the child sitting up straight, eating nicely, chatting quietly, or she could be the one swinging from the chandelier and it could go either way most days.

  16. May 31, 2014 / 11:17 am

    Really interesting and well written post and I know just what you mean – my son is also the one shouting at everything, questioning everything and never wanting to hold my hand but I take that as a positive thing, independence and knowing what you want should be celebrated


  17. June 1, 2014 / 2:46 am

    I want to say something profound and meaningful but it’s 2.36 am. And I’m awake with indigestion from eating too many Twirl Bites and Mini Eggs. Brilliant post. My sister sent me The Guardian article this week and I did a little dance. Read and rejoice parents of challenging children! Our 4 year old pushes boundaries ALL the time. So many of her friends are obliging and amenable. Beaver questions everything and no matter now much we discipline she still reverts. Why do I want her to behave ‘well?’ Honestly? Because it would make MY life easier. I’d also feel less judged amongst mothers of ‘good’ children. But deep down I know that this is not the best thing for Beaver. I was just like her as a child. The traits I identify now as anti-social, not listening and frustration, I grew out of and the others, like motivation and determination, I harnessed. We don’t all turn into sociopaths, right?

    It bodes well to remember this next time we’re in that situation. Compliance isn’t everything.

    Thanks Alison 🙂

    Off to eat Rennies.

  18. June 1, 2014 / 9:51 am

    As a mother to a “spirited” child myself, I know that however hard the days are I don’t think I would swap them! I would like to think that I can carry on encouraging the curious, inquisitive, confident and exploring nature of my son in a way that is perhaps manageable but doesn’t squash his spirit. Children are amazing beings and it’s far to easy to expect them to behave like adults, when in fact childhood is so fleeting!

    I 100% agree with you on this, and just have to remind myself everyday that it’s ok!

  19. June 1, 2014 / 12:50 pm

    So may great points and love that you look what her spirit will mean as an adult. Fab post!

  20. June 1, 2014 / 7:01 pm

    love this post Alison and totally agree! We have a family with kids similar age to W and they have been brought up quite strictly..on one hand it would be fantastic if W ate all his dinner when he was told or didn’t want to touch all the things in the shop or sing loudly at inappropriate moments..but actually I never really begrudge him these things as I love his excitement over the world. Sometimes he does get a little ‘wild’ but he’s never bitten a child or acted out that way (not saying that I’m some amazing parent because of this btw, its probably just luck!) and so if his disobedience isn’t actually hurting anyone or being mean then I’m sort of OK with it! x

  21. June 2, 2014 / 1:55 pm

    Great post! I have a very, very feisty 7year old girl. She questions everything, shouts, screams at me like she’s a hormonal teen, tells me she hates everyone, everything – but to the rest of the world she is a shining star! Polite, kind, helpful, over-achiever – the positive list is endless, so I am mega proud! I just sometimes wish she was occasionally like that at home 😉 She’ll be running the country one day, i’m sure of it!

  22. June 11, 2014 / 10:03 am

    Don’t hate me for saying this, but I loathe kids who misbehave in restaurants. If mine tries it, we get out pronto. I would hate for her to ruin other people’s meal and I am just as vocal when other people’s kids ruin my meal. This is why I hardly ever go to kids-friendly restaurants – or any kids-friendly place to be honest.

    I think it’s a cultural issue. In Italy kids are raised to know that they can be cheeky, stay up late, nap whenever and go wherever. No establishment would discourage a kid from going in. We are basically raised like adults. Kids rule in Italy and wherever you go you’ll see them strolling around at 10pm with their parents at weekends or in the summer. I think we are generally a population of opinionated, direct and fun people. Spirited, if you want. That comes from being integrated in the adult world from the word go. we have dinner at the same time, even if it’s late at night. No ‘kids meal’ and adults meal. It’s just one family meal. same food on the table. I find it so funny that Brits don’t do that and I can’t understand why. My grandfather always insisted on me trying (very diluted) wine from the age of 10 as it was part of the meal. Surprise surprise, I have never had a love of alcohol or need to get drunk. I never saw it as the forbidden thing.

    Growing up I was made to feel that all the perks come with a certain social etiquette and I was always cool with it. And so is my daughter. She jumps on planes, dines in nice places and (mostly) knows how to behave. When she is at home, she knows that she can be cheekier, more opinionated and louder, but that’s fine by me too.

    Sorry for the essay, but I do find the whole British thing of having kids places and adults places so annoying. I can’t understand why ‘kids need to be kids’. Why can’t they be simply people and learn social etiquette from a young age?

    • Alison Perry
      June 11, 2014 / 11:16 am

      Of course I don’t hate you F – it’s all about the conversation with me. Love hearing what other people think. Definitely agree that it’s a culture thing. We’d never take G to a ‘nice’ restaurant for the reason you voice here – I’d feel stressed out that she might ruin someone else’s meal.

      I kind of think it’s too high an expectation on kids to think they should sit quietly at meals – their brains are still developing after all, and they don’t have the life experiences we do to draw from, so how on earth can they possibly know what’s appropriate all the time? When I worked in Gap Kids years ago, as a student, we’d often laugh at how properly crazy most kids are – they’d run in, singing and dancing or laugh REALLY loudly – all things that if grown ups did, you’d be a bit worried! But that’s the joy of being a child and I don’t think we should expect them to act like grown ups 🙂

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.