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I Don’t Want a Compliant Child

As far back as I can remember, I was non-compliant. There needed to be a good reason for me to do what someone was asking, or chances were high that I wouldn’t do it. In fact, one of the words I hate most in the world is “compliance”, as well as all its derivatives. Hearing the word makes me feel instant RAGE. It’s not just taken as a personal insult, but as an assault to my person when someone requests or demands my compliance.

It’s just the way I’m wired. My extreme visceral reaction is completely out of my control.

You see, words are alive for me. They’re like art and music, fine-food and instruments of war. The way they’re strung together can create the soaring crescendo of an aria or the somber notes of a dirge. I like the way words taste and feel, the way they engulf me with emotion. Words are powerful tools, capable of defining social and political realms. They give meaning and definition to that which was without meaning. They manipulate. They conspire. They transform hormones and neuron function into awe-inspiring proclamations of love and devotion.

And, of course, they can also elicit strong negative reactions. Merriam-Webster online defines the word compliant this way:


noun \kəm-ˈplī-ən(t)s\: the act or process of doing what you have been asked or ordered to do : the act or process of complying

Full Definition of COMPLIANCE
1a: the act or process of complying to a desire, demand, proposal, or regimen or to coercion

b: conformity in fulfilling official requirements

2: a disposition to yield to others
3: the ability of an object to yield elastically when a force is applied : flexibility

Further, they list the synonyms for compliance thusly:

Synonyms: acquiescence, biddability, compliancy, deference, docility, obedience, submissiveness

The moment someone uses the word compliant as a personal expectation, I feel like I’m wrestling to free myself of the yoke being thrown over me.


I’m a dynamic and capable human being, and I don’t want to be docile.

No matter who you are, what kind of job you have, how much money you’re worth, or how important you think you are, I am your equal. I will not be submissive to you.

This is my natural state of being, to value freedom and autonomy above all else, just as it’s the nature of others to follow, to crave routine and rule and structure, to comply. I need free will like I need air and water. While others fear the chaos and uncertainty that accompanies radical individualism, I fear the consumption of my soul by willfully relinquishing my ability to think and do for myself.

For me, compliance is a word on par with indentured servitude. It robs people of fire and passion and leaves in its wake a grinding monotony and grim acceptance of a life painted in hues of beige and gray.

Connor, my beautiful spark of life, burns so bright and white-hot that it hurts my eyes. He is so full of love and joy and spirit that you can almost see him coming apart at the seams. He has no more interest in the idea of compliance than a butterfly has interest in car insurance.

Ah, but public schools…this ugly word is dragged out at almost every IEP meeting. It’s written into goals, as in “Connor will demonstrate compliance with adult requests on at least three out of five trials.”

With all the richness we have to choose from in terms of our language, why do schools choose to apply words to our children that invoke such ugliness? Instead of compliant, can’t my son work on being proactive, cooperative, or accepting? What about amicable or harmonious, collaborative or affable?

We have another IEP tomorrow, and I suppose that what I’m getting at is the way in which the language we choose to apply to someone frames them in specific ways. Do we want our children to be blindly compliant, or do we want them to be thoughtfully cooperative? Do we prize conformity and indistinguishability above individualism? Do we want teachers to measure our children’s worth in terms of compliance, or some other measure?

If we want to see a change in how our children are treated in the public school setting, it may be advantageous to begin by changing the language that’s used in describing our children, and identifying what their goals should be.

Some may say it’s just a matter of semantics, but I would argue that our children will either rise to our expectations or fall under the weight of our our demands. I’d much rather see my son rise and learn the value of cooperation, than to fall beneath the burden of being rigidly compliant.

But again, I’m biased. As a non-compliant person, I tend to buck the system. And I’ll continue to do so, by refusing to never again sign an IEP that contains the word “compliant”.


About Flannery

Kid, husband, dogs, my mother, full-time job, maximum stress, minimal relaxation...sooner or later I had to vent. AND we moved from California to Texas. I could start a whole other blog about that.

8 responses »

  1. Good article. But money is not the measure of a person’s worth.

  2. Good for you. You, as part of Connor ‘ s iep team have every right to discuss semantics and put your foot down in regards to not allowing the word compliance in his IEP goals. Good luck tomorrow

  3. Love this post. We definitely have a non-compliant daughter…. but it’s not really her choice to be that, and I’d agree there are much better words. Conforming also not the best choice – always makes me think of a herd of sheep. Interesting points on how language shapes the outcomes, very thought-provoking x

  4. What dose non compliant mean I have autism an learning disabilities so don’t allways understand words

  5. Amen. Honestly, the last thing I want is for my intellectually disabled child with limited communication skills (Down syndrome) to be “compliant.” I really appreciate this post.

  6. I hope the meeting goes well for you tommorrow. I am by no means a “bible thumper” but the best advise I have ever read about raising children is a misinterpreted verse in Psalms. Most people think the verse reads about ‘Training a child in the way he should go,” when in actuallity the most accurate meaning is “Train up a child the way he is BENT.” In other words raise your child to be himself, with his gifts, his interests, his way of being. Don’t let anyone break him and don’t allow one word in that IEP that even hints at the possibilty of attempts to veer him from his natural incredible self.

  7. I totally agree. Nice insights!


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