My Son Won’t Do As He’s Told

Annie The Nanny

Annie The Nanny

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Annie the Nanny is a professional parenting educator. She writes a weekly advice column for parents who need help with their children's behaviour. Her advice has also been featured on CTV, CBC and in all kinds of print media. For more information about Annie, please go to her 'about' page.

Hello. I have a four-year-old son who is in preschool and has a VERY dominant personality. The bottom line is that my son won’t do as he’s told. He has trouble listening and following the rules. He wants to do things his own way. He has this problem at home as well. He bosses his 2-year-old brother around and tells him how to play, then gets upset when he doesn’t listen. I don’t want to pull him out of class, but even his teacher is saying that he needs to learn how to be more tolerant of rules and better in the listening department.

I have tried to talk to him, but it is hard to get him to stay still and actually understand what I am trying to tell him. I don’t want to pull him out of preschool, because I want him to learn how to behave, or the problems will be worse in kindergarten. Any advice you have would be great!


Hello Jillian,

my son won't do as he's told

When somebody tells me they have a child with a very dominant personality, I tend to read between the lines, and dominant to me often translates as “won’t do as he’s asked.” Now, because I am using supposition only and can’t be sure if that’s true, please excuse me if that’s not the case. If that is the case, then I’d very much encourage you to check out my behaviour intervention services page, as I think you’d find that very helpful in your situation.

My son won’t do as he’s told:  That’s a symptom of a problem not the problem itself.

You see, all the things that he’s doing in school are symptoms of a problem but not the problem itself. Dominant also generally means dominant across the board. It’s highly unlikely you have a child who is dominant with other people unless there is some kind of power struggle going on with those closest to him, i.e., his parents. So the next question to ask might be “why?” Why does a four-year-old child feel the need to be dominant? That’s a good question, and it’s worth pondering for a bit.

My son won’t do as he’s told: Ask yourself what are the real needs of a child?

Children need lots of love and I can tell he already has that in you.  However, the next most important thing is to have a reliable authority figure.  Now many people are great in the first department but lacking in the latter.  Note that I say ‘authority figure.’  What do I mean by that?  Well, children need to know who is the leader.  That cannot be something that is unclear to a child, as it makes them feel uncomfortable which they then express through their behaviour.  They feel uncomfortable because they feel there is a vacuum at the top and it seems to them as if parent is expecting them to fill it, which although they are gloriously ill equipped to do, they try anyway.  A parent can give a child this impression in a host of ways, some of which I describe below and most of the time are done without even knowing it.

My son won’t do as he’s told: Check out this list and see what you might be doing.

1. By offering too much choice of the wrong kind at the wrong time.
2. By being inconsistent and not following through on consequences.
3. By presenting an ambiguous path forward, such as too much what do YOU want to do?

Remember what children are designed to do.

Children are designed to follow and mimic an adult through play. If you constantly interrupt your activities to ask your child what he wants to do next, you send the message that you expect him to choose what YOU do next.In other words, the child becomes the leader rather than the follower. No four-year-old is equipped for that, and thus they feel uncomfortable, becoming increasingly demanding and difficult in the hopes that someone will take over and restore the normal parent-child flow.

Don’t back off.

This is frequently a difficult concept for people to grasp at first. Not because they aren’t prepared to see something from a different viewpoint, but because it so goes against the grain of what many books and parenting experts will tell you, which is to back off from a control battle. However, when you say that “my son won’t do as he’s told,” it means that the control battle is real, and it’s important that you accept it as the challenge that it is.

I hope the above is helpful. It is not so much a prescription of “tips,” but more of a philosophy that I think will be more helpful in the long run. For more help with your parenting, please visit my parenting services page.

All the best,


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