You know how some people hear certain words and cringe? “Moist” is, for many people (not me), a cringe-worthy word. “Compliance” seems to have gotten a bad rep too! What is it about the word compliance? From speaking to parents, I’ve gathered that some of them see images of militant children with no personalities when they hear the word “compliance.” For them, having a “compliant” child means having a child who doesn’t think for themselves and obeys every command/direction/instruction/prompt 100 percent of the time, no matter what. I can see why that would be an off-putting concept. And maybe that’s what some people mean when they say “compliance,” but, according to Merriam Webster online, comply means, “to conform, submit, or adapt (as to a regulation or to another’s wishes) as required or requested.”
As someone who has studied and used behavior modification, I don’t bat an eyelash at the word compliance. To me, it simply means following directions. Many parents avoid the word “compliance” and use “listening” instead. Oftentimes parents come in and say, “my child won’t listen to anything I tell them to do.” Wrong!…well at least most of the time. I say that because in my experience with children and families in therapy, the problem isn’t that children aren’t listening, it’s that they’re not following through! Compliance is the part after listening… the conforming, submitting, or adapting. My daughter listens to me say “no” – I know she hears me because she looks right at me and hesitates, but then she reaches for the dog food bowl anyways. That’s not a listening (hearing) problem – she’s being noncompliant.
Making kids into obedient little robots that say “yes, ma’am” and “yes, sir” all the time is not the goal! But children need to be able to (most of the time) listen AND follow through (aka comply) with caregivers (parents, teachers, grandparents, etc). Kids who can’t be mostly compliant struggle to be successful in multiple settings, including home, school, church, and at extracurricular activities.
My hope is that parents will be more comfortable hearing and saying the word “compliance.” It doesn’t have to be a negative word! In The Princess Bride when Wesley says, “as you wish” and fetches a pitcher for Buttercup, he is complying with her request. When my daughter points at her sippy cup, I comply with her request for her water. When my husband asks me for a back rub after a long day at work, I comply (usually) by giving him one (and vice-versa). Nothing negative about all that!