Intelligent Disobedience for Children: A Handbook for Parents and Caregivers

When you place your child in the care of other adults—day-care providers, teachers, coaches, camp counselors—you trust that he will be safe, but you know you can’t be totally sure. When a supposedly trusted authority figure tells a child to do something wrong, the experience is confusing and potentially dangerous. You prepare your child to not get into cars with strangers or walk off with a stranger at the mall. How do you prepare him for the rare but serious situation when an authority figure tells him to do something he shouldn’t?

Many of us don’t. Let’s see how we might.

We already have a great example of how to do this from another safety activity. Most of us were taught at a very young age what to do if our clothes catch on fire: Stop, Drop, and Roll. This simple, memorable saying has saved disfigurements and even deaths. Relatively few people have ever needed to use this. Yet, they still remember it, even decades later. Why?

A rhythmic, rhyming phrase is memorable. When it is combined with a little practice, our brains form a pattern for behavior that can activate when the right circumstances trigger it.

So let’s create a memorable saying we can teach and practice with our children about orders from authorities. The one I came up with is: Blink, Think, Choice, Voice! The full expression is Blink, Think, Make a Choice, Use Your Voice.

What is it telling children to remember?

It is teaching them how to say “no” instead when saying “yes” would be harmful. This is known as intelligent disobedience. It is a critical skill both for safety and good citizenship. It is taught to guide dogs that support blind people to ensure that they won’t follow an order to go forward if danger is in the way. Surely we can teach it to children.You prepare your child to not get into cars with strangers or walk off with a stranger at the mall. How do you prepare him for the rare but serious situation when an authority figure tells him to do something he shouldn’t? Click To Tweet

Once the skills have been taught, it is important that all adults in the household understand what is meant by intelligent disobedience and why it is important for your child’s safety. Then they can recognize and support instances of intelligent disobedience when your child tries out her new skill.

Blink: Register the shock. Pause. Blink a few times in disbelief. Take a few seconds to recover. Resist the pressure to obey the authority figure.
Think: What is at stake? Does the order make sense? Does it go against what you have been taught is right? Could obeying cause harm to you or another?
Choice: You always have a choice: obey, disobey, check with someone else, or make a different suggestion. Which choice seems right?
Voice: Express your decision early and clearly. Don’t send a mixed message. If you decide “no,” say it so your meaning can’t be misunderstood. “No!” means “No!”

Teaching Your Children with This Guide

The greatest gifts you can give your children are the roots of responsibility and the wings of independence.—Denis Waitley

You can teach children the Think, Blink, Choice, Voice method using a simple process laid out in this guide. The process includes (1) instruction, (2) demonstration, (3)rehearsal, and (4) feedback. The goal of this training is to keep it simple and make it fun, so your child learns how to make the right choice and act on it.

1. Instruction

Description: Instruction involves talking with your child about the skill to be learned. Depending on your child’s learning preference, you can also include written examples or pictures to illustrate what you are talking about.

Why Is This Important?: Introducing a new skill directly and explaining why it is important can reduce confusion. Understanding how your child might use the skill in life will keep him interested in this activity.

Application: Please note that for children ages four to six years old, certain social skills may need to be introduced before or while teaching the Blink, Think, Choice, Voice technique. For instance, they may need to learn how to make eye contact, use a confident volume of speech, or ensure that they can be understood.

Below is an example of how to start a conversation on this subject with your child. It’s important that you feel confident in your approach, so feel free to tailor this dialogue to your comfort level and to your child. You may also want to use pictures to illustrate what you are teaching.

Example: Wherever there are blank lines, have the child answer the question and help her as needed. This engages the child right from the beginning.

You might start by saying:

“Usually, I want you to listen to the people who are in charge. But sometimes an adult might tell you to do something wrong. I want to teach you what to do when you think someone is telling you to do something wrong, because I may not be with you when this happens. I’m talking about people such as a teacher, coach, or babysitter.”

“I want to make sure you understand two words.”

“First, what does it mean to obey?” ___________________________

“What does it mean to disobey?” ___________________________

“Let’s say an adult or even a kid you know tells you to do something you think is wrong, something that will hurt someone else or be hurtful to you. Now when I say hurtful, I mean things such as being told to do something unsafe, or to touch private parts, or to hurt someone, or be mean or unkind. Let’s make a list of things that are OK and not OK when someone tells you to do something.”

OK to obey                                        Not OK to obey

___________________________ ____________________________

___________________________ ____________________________

___________________________ ____________________________

___________________________ ____________________________

Note that by inviting your child to make this list with you, it will give you a feel for what he knows and doesn’t know. Remember, this list does not have to be complete when you begin. You can keep this list and add to it as time goes on. You can also make it specific to situations your child may be in during his daily interactions with other adults and children.

Next, ask your child these questions so you can gently begin helping him to overcome the stress he may feel in these situations.

“If a coach or teacher gave you an order to hurt someone or to do something you think is wrong, how would you feel? ____________________________

“Is it OK to disobey that order?” ____________________________

Note that if your child still feels that she must obey, ask her why. She may tell you something like, “I’ll get yelled at if I don’t obey,” or “It’s against the rules to disobey.” Be sure to respond to your child’s concerns with empathy and reassurance as needed.

“Now, we’re going to practice a way that will make it easier for you to disobey if you get a bad order. Let’s learn a technique called Blink, Think, Choice, and Voice.”

2. Demonstration

Demonstration allows you to show the child how to do the skill.

Why Is This Important?: It is important to demonstrate the skill because observation is a powerful learning tool. You can think of this as a show-and-tell.

Application: We offer the following example as a guideline. We invite you to tailor this using your own examples with the kinds of people your child spends time with. Make sure to use a gesture while demonstrating each step—you can use the gestures pictured or make up your own.

Example: “Your coach tells you to hit another player.”

“The first step is to Blink. If you get a bad order, you may be startled. Breathe in and close your eyes. Breathe out through your mouth and open your eyes. Let’s practice this together three times.”

Explain why: Blinking and breathing will give you time to think.

“The second step is to Think. Put your hand on your head and ask yourself, “Is hitting another player the right thing to do?”

“What other questions can you ask yourself?” (Is it fair? safe? right? kind? mean? And so on.)




“The third step is to make a Choice. Decide whether you are going to obey, disobey, check with someone else, or suggest a different idea.”


If it’s right ————————- Yes

If it’s wrong ———————– No

If you’re not sure ———— Question

Who else can you ask? ________________

“The fourth step is to use your Voice. Lift your head, look the coach in the eye, and say it like you mean it.” If the answer is no:

“What are ways to say no?”





Parents can give prompts if the child has difficulty. For example,“I won’t,” “That’s wrong,” or “Stop saying that.”

If the child is uncomfortable saying no, show how he can use his body instead. For instance, demonstrate shaking your head “no,” or folding your arms and staring.

Breaks: Determine whether your child needs a break before going on to Rehearsal.

3. Rehearsal

Description: Rehearsal allows your child to practice the skill and can be the most fun part of the learning process.

Why Is This Important?: Role play is an effective way to practice because it gives your child the experience of putting this new skill to use in a safe environment. It also lets your child practice responding immediately, which is key when learning a new technique.

Application: Think of some age-appropriate situations you will use in the role plays with your child. Choose the situation first that you feel will be easiest for your child to deal with, and explain it to her. Then act out the situation as if you are the child being told to do something wrong. Say the action step you are on and use body language to demonstrate the step.

Blink __________________________

Think __________________________

Choice _________________________

Voice __________________________

Now have the child do it. Give the harmful order and have the child say each step aloud and act it out. If you are teaching a few children, have each one act out the steps.

Now, using the same situation, this time demonstrate doing it without saying aloud the words “blink,” “think,” “choice,” or “voice.” Then, have the child do the action steps as he would in a real situation. Ask him to do the body motions so you can verify that he is doing each step.

Allow the role play to unfold naturally and allow for mistakes. You will be able to give feedback after the role play is complete. It may be necessary to use prompts to help your child remember the order of action steps and/or what types of choices he can make. You can make and use other written or pictorial reminders to help.

Examples: You need to choose the kinds of situations your child is most likely to encounter. For example, if she is going away to summer camp, you may want to make the authority figure a counselor. Choose examples that may be easier for your child, and work up to more sensitive or difficult ones. Here are some ideas.

Crossing guard: A guard waves the children to cross the street but does not see the car speeding through the stop signal.

Coach: A coach tells you to be dishonest, to foul someone purposely, to not shake hands at the end of the game, to injure an opposing team’s player, or to keep playing through lightning and thunder.

Friends or peers: A child who is bullying another child tells you to join the bullying by doing things such as teasing him, taking his lunch, or throwing things at him.

Babysitter: A sitter tells you to do something bad, such as having a taste of his beer, taking a puff on a cigarette, or taking pictures with your clothes off.

Friend’s parent: A friend’s parent tells you to stay alone in a car while she goes into the mall, or to leave a store with something that hasn’t been paid for.

Teacher: A teacher tells you to do something that makes another student feel bad, such as making fun of him for wrong answers or helping to lock him in a closet as punishment.

Authority figures with more intimate trust (clergy, tutors or others who give private lessons, doctors or nurses, relatives): This person tells you to do something that she says you cannot tell your parents about. (Be as specific as you think is necessary for your child’s safety, such as, “He tells you to touch his private parts.”)

Also Practice Intelligent Obedience

After a child has done two or three role plays using intelligent disobedience, that day or soon thereafter, explain that sometimes an adult may ask her to do something unusual for a good reason. In that case, she needs to recognize the difference and obey.

For example, an intruder might be in her school. The new safety procedures are known as ALICE for “Alert, Lockdown, Inform, Counter, E scape.” If the classroom is on the ground floor, the teacher may judge that the safest thing is for the students to jump out the window. Usually this would be an unsafe order, but in this case it is safer than staying in the school, so the right action is to obey.

What are other examples when you might need to use intelligent obedience?




4. Feedback

Description: Feedback provides the opportunity to give your child praise for correct responses and constructive comments to help him improve. This is also a good time to see if your child has any questions that may help him better understand the technique. Listen for comments from your child that will enable you to assist with his learning.

Why Is This Important?: Feedback is vital because it provides information to your child on how he is doing and how he could do even better. A key to effective feedback is to give it immediately after a rehearsal.

Caution: It is critical that children not become confused about when to obey and when to disobey, or how to disobey effectively. Only give feedback on one thing until it is clear that the child understands it.

For example, if the child is having trouble with the “Think” step, only give feedback on that one step. Have the child practice it again. If after three times she is still struggling with that step, gently end the session for that day.

Do not jump to another step. Come back the next day when the child is fresh and go over the step that was difficult for her yesterday until she feels confident with it. Afterward, you can give feedback on other steps.

Application: If you are practicing with more than one child, this provides an opportunity for the children to learn from watching each other and offering their feedback as well. This gives the children a chance to reflect on what they know. You could also ask what they would do differently and what they would do the same as the other children.

Optional: One way to give feedback is by videoing the rehearsals. This provides a tangible measure of your child’s responses. As you and your child watch the video playback, you can pause the action and point out strong responses as well as weakness. Be sure to use constructive comments specific to the behavior that needs to be improved. You can also ask your child to identify what he thinks was effective and what he still needs to work on. This prompts your child to think critically about how best to communicate.

Whether or not you video the rehearsals, you and your child can fill out the feedback form below.

Remember, you want to reinforce good behavior. Praise the specific actions that the child does well during rehearsal.

Once your child has accomplished parts of this technique without prompting, you need concentrate only on reinforcing other parts that he is still having trouble with.

Feedback Form:

(You can print copies of this page for future use.)

Child’s Name __________________

Role-Play Situation __________________ Date ___________________

What You Did Well                   What You Could Do Better

__________________________ _________________________

__________________________ _________________________

__________________________ _________________________

Role-Play Situation __________________ Date ___________________

What You Did Well                   What You Could Do Better

__________________________ _________________________

__________________________ _________________________

__________________________ _________________________

Role-Play Situation __________________ Date ___________________

What You Did Well                   What You Could Do Better

__________________________ _________________________

__________________________ _________________________

__________________________ _________________________

Example: Your child performed the Blink correctly and added a deep breath while pausing to Think about the Choices available to him in the situation. Let’s say that the practice situation involved a classmate telling him to hold another child down on the ground. When your child used his Voice, he avoided eye contact and mumbled, “No, that’s not right.”

Reinforcing feedback: “I like how you took a deep breath after you blinked, and your decision not to join in on bullying the other kid was a good response.”

Developmental feedback: “I noticed you did not look the bully in the eye, and I also noticed that you spoke very softly, like you were not sure of your decision. Let’s practice making eye contact and speaking louder in an ‘I mean it’ tone of voice.”

How Much Practice Is Needed?

At the beginning, it is good to practice a couple of times within the first week so you get through a full role play and feedback at least once or twice. Keep it as fun and engaging as possible. Respect your child’s attention span. Fifteen to thirty minutes is probably a good length of time. If you are teaching several children, they are likely to stay engaged longer.

Once you have successfully completed the first role play, additional ones should go faster. We suggest doing two or three role plays in the next couple of sessions. By that time, your child should be comfortable with the skill. You can decide whether you want to do another couple of role plays a few weeks later to cement the new skill.

Dates and times to practice over the next two weeks.

Date             Time

___________ ___________

___________ ___________

___________ ___________

___________ ___________

___________ ___________

Caution: If you are teaching this to older children, you should discuss the exceptional need to obey law enforcement officers. The rare but tragic instances of preteenage or teenage children being shot in police encounters demonstrate the need for caution—even if your child believes the order is bad. Generally, it is safer for him to obey a police officer and report the events once in a nonthreatening environment.

Reinforcement: Make sure the adults in your household and any regular caregivers know what you are teaching your children and why. Ask them to stay alert for any attempts by your child to use intelligent disobedience skills. Ask the adults to manage their own reactions and be supportive within the context of the situation. For example, they might ask:

  • Are you practicing intelligent disobedience?
  • What did I ask you to do that seemed unsafe or wrong?
  • What about that seemed wrong or unsafe?

If the child gives answers that support her use of intelligent disobedience, give her positive reinforcement. If the child gives answers that show she misunderstood the order, help her to see what was meant without making her feel bad for misunderstanding.

Reporting: Once your child has learned the Blink, Think, Choice, Voice technique, it is important to talk to her about reporting when an adult tells her to do something wrong. Explain that this is especially important if the adult has harmed the child or threatened the child to keep a secret.

Community Reinforcement: At this point, if you have seen the benefit of the Blink, Think, Choice, Voice technique, you may want to advocate for it being introduced in other places where your child spends time, such as after-school clubs. The more widespread the support for intelligent disobedience, the more confidence you can have that it will be reinforced.

Where does my child spend time, and who is the best contact there?

Place                              Best Contact

_____________________ ______________________

_____________________ ______________________

_____________________ ______________________

Easy Rehearsal Checklist

After you have gone through the workbook once with your child, you may find it easier to work from this checklist when you do additional rehearsals with him. Remember to keep it fun.

  1. Pick an example to practice (such as Uncle Joe just asked you to . . . )


  1. Make it clear who the authority figure is and what he is telling the child to do.
  2. Have the child go through the steps using hand gestures while doing them: Blink, Think, Choice, Voice.
  3. Prompt as needed, but after more rehearsals, give him more time to figure out the steps for himself.
  4. Be generous in your praise, for example: “I think you did that very well!”
  5. Give specific positive feedback, for example: “You blinked until you could think clearly—that’s just right!”
  6. Give specific constructive feedback. For example: “Here’s something you could do even better. When you say ‘no,’ you can look up and say it louder.”
  7. Practice one thing at a time. Have your child try difficult steps more than once when necessary. If he tries three times and still has trouble, gently end the session for that day.
  8. If you videoed the rehearsal, watch it together and ask what he sees, and/or point out what you see.
  9. Decide whether to end rehearsing for that day or to do another scenario.

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