Respect Vs. Obedience

Emi Sano
5 min readAug 8, 2023

I’ve been coming across this topic a lot on podcasts and TikToks or just people asking the hard questions on Facebook groups. What can I do with my disrespectful kid? As I’ve taken on this authoritative approach to parenting I had to read a lot about “obedience” and making your kid “obey” versus “respect” and having your kid “respect your boundaries”.

Disclaimer: I’m taking what I’ve been learning and trying to apply it to this article. A lot of what I’ve written is my own opinion mixed in with things I’ve picked up on my readings so don’t take this as a “How-to” or “Must do” kind of article. I will link resources below.

If you haven’t seen this “Respect Vs. Obedience” TikTok yet by @HappyWoz I highly recommend watching this:

I absolutely loved the above video because it demonstrates how certain people view what respect means. A lot of the time when they say, “You need to RESPECT me,” they mean “You need to OBEY me.”

To start off, yes, I want my kid to be respectful and obedient, but I also want him to be able to think for himself and ask the WHY. It can be a little frustrating at times when you have a kid pushback and ask the why or “I want five more minutes” instead of just going to brush their teeth, but in the overall grand scheme of life, I want him to be able to question unfair/unjust rules the instead of comply. I want him to be able to feel confident in himself to confront an authority figure about an issue that he doesn’t feel comfortable with instead of just letting it happen.

Respect, by definition, means “due regard for the feelings, wishes, rights, or traditions of others”. It doesn’t mean to follow rules, listen and obey to authority figures, or blindly follow. If you want someone to respect you, then you must offer or show that respect back.

Obedience, by definition, means “compliance with an order, request, or law or submission to another’s authority”. This is not respect. When you say “respect your elders” and you really mean “obey” then you should probably change that phrase to “obey your elders”.

You can respect your elders by understanding their feelings and honoring their boundaries and the ways we can show our toddlers what respect means is by setting our boundaries and honoring their boundaries.

So, for example, let’s say that your toddler is having a hard time with having to put their toys away and starts to throw them in a different direction instead of their bins.

You could

1.) Yell at them and tell them they HAVE to pick up all the toys and put them in the bins RIGHT NOW.


2.) Acknowledge that putting toys away is a hard task when you still want to play, note that throwing toys are not an appropriate response to how you manage those feelings, and show the best way to move forward by offering to help clean up together.

Does that second option sound ridiculous? Let’s do what my favorite psychologist, Dr. Becky from “Good Inside” podcast does and put yourself in a more relatable adult situation.

Which one would you react better to?

1.) Your boss yelling at you for not completing a project, telling you that you’re horrible at time management, that you have to stay late, and finish it TONIGHT.


2.) Your boss acknowledging that there was a lot on your plate than there should have been and offering to take some tasks to help complete the project and finish the project on time together.

You’d probably take option 2, correct? You’d feel more respected as an employee in that way as well as having more respect towards your boss.

Back to your toddler throwing toys during clean up time. Now do you find option 2 ridiculous? Why do we put so much more emphasis on “respect” (obedience) when it comes to children when we don’t want give it back to them?

These are the questions I have asked myself multiple times during the day. Do I want him to obey what I am asking or do I want him think for himself and do it because he wants to help?

A lot of times I just want him to do the task I ask and not make it such a big learning moment for the both of us. Those moments I’m very hot-headed, yelling, and telling him to do the task RIGHT NOW.

Those are not my best moments and guess what? They’re not my toddler’s best moments either. None of us get what we want out of this situation. We are both mad/frustrated and we’re stuck in this endless battle of the wills.

I noticed a lot of my friends would say, “You have such a good kid. He listens to you,” and most of the time I have to laugh because no not all the time. I think in the situations my friends get to see him in action, we’ve already worked on handling certain tasks/situations respectfully. It’s not obedience, it’s respect. He knows I’m respecting HIS boundaries by giving him a heads up on leaving. He is respecting MY boundaries by following through and leaving when I say his time is up. I’m giving him space to want to help clean up a mess. He is able to come to me when he is feeling uncomfortable and wants to leave and I will respect that and let us go.

And yes, there are times when he doesn’t want to do what I ask. He will say no and I will have to guide him to do it. I never force, but we do help with following through especially if it’s a boundary that we are trying enforce.

I do realize that I’m talking about a toddler here and not an adult. He does need to learn that society has some “obedience” rules to follow. But that comes with maturity and age appropriate situations. Right now toddlers need boundaries. They need to learn how to respect those boundaries so that when someone does need them to obey, they can first find out why and then make the confident decision to listen and follow their rules or not and suffer the consequences.

I wonder what society would be like if we all started thinking this way.



Emi Sano

Emi Sano is a self-published author of “Voices: a short story collection” and YA novella “We Don’t Talk About That.” She freelances as a writer/blogger.