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What Causes a Rebellious Spirit: And How to Help Your Child Avoid It!

November 16, 2019

Have you ever wondered why some children turn out to be rebellious toward their parents and others do not?  What causes that?  Even loving and attentive parents sometimes end up with rebellious teenagers.  Why?

Is it true that all children go through a "rebellious stage"?  The answer is NO. 
 

 


Rebellion is many times displayed as a revolt or open resistance against an authority.  In the context of our discussion as parents, we want to help them avoid rebelling against our authority and ultimately against a relationship with us as their parents.  

 

With us being the loving and attentive parents that we are, why would a child even want to rebel?  Consistent rebellion in a child begins and continues for a reason.  
 

Here's the reason.  The root cause of all rebellion is a lack of trust in some or many areas.  Somewhere along the line, the child has lost confidence and trust which is causing anger.  
 

First let's distinguish between disobedience and rebellion.  There really is a difference!  
 

Disobedience: when a child does something they were told not to do, or does not do something they were told to do. 
When a child is disobedient but not necessarily in rebellion, they want to hide it.  They hope the parent will not find out what they have done because they do not want the relationship with their parent to suffer.  (Their immaturity usually does not let them recognize they will likely be caught!)  The child will try to live up to the expectations of the parent while in their presence in order to stay in their good graces and continue the best relationship they can.  Disobeying a rule is not necessarily rebellion, but it is disobedience.  Disobedience isn't always rooted in anger.

 

Rebellion: a passive or openly displayed action with the intent and expectation of a future negative reaction or confrontation.  Sometimes rebellion is displayed by disobedience.  Sometimes it is displayed in a more passive way.  It is always rooted in anger.
 

A child can start out with disobedience and this can turn into rebellion when corrected.  IF  there is an underlying well-rooted trust between the parent and the child, the rebellion quickly leaves and obedience comes.  If there is a broken trust, the rebellion continues and disobedience continues. 
 

There are three possibilities when disobedience happens:
    1. They are just disobedient because of a desire for something they can't have.  No anger is involved.  When corrected they comply.  This is not rebellion.
    2.  They are disobedient without being rebellious, but become rebellious when corrected.  
    3.  They are disobedient and defiant because they are angry at their authority for telling them they cannot have what they want.  This is full-on rebellion and is not necessarily about the immediate circumstance, but has an underlying root of anger involved.  

 

What are some of the ways rebellion is displayed?
 

In small and older children alike:

 1. Open defiance of rules in full view of the parent
 2. Shouting names or negative/angry words
 3. Refusal to participate in activities with the family or at church (including singing hymns or bowing head during prayers) PASSIVE
 4. Not responding to vocal commands or interactions - PASSIVE
 5. Throwing things or displaying destructive behaviors toward property
 6. Having a pouty or contrary attitude - PASSIVE
 7. Obeying a command slowly or without effort – PASSIVE
 8. Screaming or crying/temper tantrum to manipulate a situation

In older children these are some additional signs of rebellion:
 9. Using foul language in front of parent
10. Wearing inappropriate clothing, makeup or hair styles - PASSIVE
11. Damaging their bodies with piercings, tatoos or damaging others property
12. Smoking, using drugs or alcohol
13. Being involved in destructive relationships
14. Showing outward displays against the parent's religious beliefs

 

Clearly these behaviors are destructive to the child as well as to their relationships with parents and others.  Rebellion against parents never results in something good.  
 

So how can we guide and instruct our children to avoid becoming rebellious toward us?  Remember, the root of rebellion is lack of trust in some area.  
 

Think about this. Children are always looking for security.  They want to have complete confidence in the fact that you will take care of them.  That you mean what you say.  That you are stronger than they are so that if anything comes up, they can turn to you to help and guide them. 
 

Curiously, they continually test us to see if we are up to the job.  As you probably have figured out, some of them test more aggressively and more often than others.  In other words... children need to trust that you mean what you say and that you have their best interests at heart.. and that you will follow through.  
 

This means that each time you lay down an expectation, they must know that you are doing it with their best interests in mind making accommodation for their situation, circumstances and feelings.  They need to trust you. 
 

What do some parents do to fail the test?  
Here are some reasons that rebellion begins.

 

PARENTS NOT BEING IN CHARGE

A child wants to know who is in charge.  If they are not sure you are, they will feel as though they must be... and they do not have confidence in their own knowledge to handle it.  This causes them to feel insecure and angry that there is no one who is taking care of their needs... even if you think you are!  They need to trust you are stronger than they are so they can rest in the security of your authority. 

This is why you should make statements and not ask questions when you want them to do something.  You can add a please to the end of your statement, but it is still not asking them if they want to do something, but telling them what is expected.
 

FAILURE TO FOLLOW THROUGH

Children need to trust that your word is a rock.  There is no turning about it.  They need to see you as a solid foundation they can count on.  If you say something, you mean it and will follow through.  If you fail to do so, they will continue to test hoping you will step up to the plate.  Give them no doubt that you keep your word.
 

INCONSISTENCY

When a person is trustworthy and responsible, you can count on them, right?  Children need to count on you to be consistent.  They should not wonder if they will get in trouble when they disobey.  They should know it.  There should be no question because you are consistent.  Being inconsistent causes a lack of trust, which in turn causes anger and rebellion.  (That's why I have said in the past, consequences should be quick and consistent or they don't work.)
 

BREAKING PROMISES

They should also know when you make a promise, you keep it.... good (a reward) or bad (a consequence) unless you have a very, very good reason.  That's why making promises generally is unwise under most any circumstances.  A promise should be very rare and always kept.
 

HYPOCRISY

If you expect your children to live a certain life, you must show it by example.  They should not get in trouble for using foul language if you use it.  So, don't use it.  They should not be told not to smoke if you smoke.  Stop smoking.  They should not be expected to go to church if you refuse to go.  They should not be expected to treat their siblings with respect and kindness if you do not treat your spouse that way.   Telling your child to behave and misbehaving yourself is another cause of anger and rebellion.  
 

UNREASONABLE RULES OR EXPECTATIONS

One of the ways a child trusts a parent's judgment is to know they themselves are capable of achieving the expectations set before them.  When a parent is too strict, too harsh, too overprotective, too overbearing or too rigid in their rules and expectations, the child will feel as though they can never live up to the standard.  They will feel like a failure and will blame the parent for setting the bar beyond what they can do.  They will not trust the parent understands them or cares about their desires and needs.  This can cause anger and rebellion.

A child needs to feel a certain amount of freedom is earned by their compliance to the reasonable limitations given by the parent.  If they feel caged and there is no way out of their prison, they will rebel.  This rebellion is a lack of trust of the parent's understanding and judgment.
 

LIES

Never tell your child something is real or true unless you truly believe it to be.  Do not tell them Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, or the tooth fairy are real.  They will find out you have lied to them and a portion of their trust will be lost.  These characters are not usually the cause of rebellion but the lies told about them can be added to the other things that cause a lack of trust.  It is unneccessary to lie to your children for any reason.  

Tell them the truth and just play with imaginary characters -- but be sure they know what is real and what is not real.  Bible characters... real.  Father, Son, Holy Spirit... real.  Satan... real.  Easter Bunny, Santa, tooth fairy... not real.  Let them know you will never lie to them and when they have an important question, they will come to you...because they trust your word.
 

CONSTANT CORRECTION WITHOUT CONSTANT PRAISE

Like all of us, children want to know they are doing well.  It is just as important for them to hear praise and encouragement when they do well as it is for them to be corrected when they do wrong.  If all a child hears from a parent is negativity, they will not seek  advice or companionship from that parent.  They will avoid them and will begin a pattern of rebellion at any hint of correction.  

Look for things to compliment them on and encourage them about.  Even if it is that they do a chore well, or on time, or without being told.  Let them know you appreciate it.  It's been said... "There should be a hundred "atta boys" and a hundred smiles for every word of correction."  


PARENTAL REJECTION

A child needs to trust you want them.  They need to know one of the most important things in your life is them and their wellbeing.  Parents who complain about parenthood in front of their children damage this trust.  NEVER say you are unhappy in any way to be their parent, or that you wish they were not born, that you would rather not have children, that they are a burden, or any other indication that you don't want them.  
 

Whether you mean it or not, when you say anything to indicate you are tired of them, this is damaging to your relationship.  They do not trust it when you say you love them one day and another day complain they are a part of your life or if you joke about how hard it is to parent them or how much you gave up to be their parent.  How can they really know you have their best interests at heart if they question whether you really want to be their parent?  
 

Do not put them down or disrespect them, anytime... but especially in front of others.  You can correct their bad behavior without treating them disrespectfully.  Show them they are worthy of respect and understanding even when they make mistakes.
 

NEGLECT

Your child needs to know you want to spend time with them.  When they walk in a room, as soon as possible, acknowledge them.  Show them you are interested in what they have to say.  Make sure their needs are taken care of both physically and emotionally. Do not let your relationships with friends, activities, or computer/cell phone cause you to ignore your children.

 If they do not believe you are interested in what they have to say, how can they trust you have their best interests at heart?
 

PARENTS BROKEN RELATIONSHIPS

How would you feel if there was a person you adore and another person was putting them down?  Hurting their feelings? Telling you how awful they are?  What if you couldn't do anything about it?  Wouldn't that make you angry?

This is the position of a child of parents who do not treat each other as they should. When parents divorce, or even when they treat each other badly, or break their own covenants, it causes the child not to trust them.  They become angry.  This causes rebellion.

Treat their father with respect, admiration and love. That doesn't mean you will never slip up and get upset sometimes.  But generally, they need to know you love him and want what is best for him just as you want what is best for them.  Never give them any indication that you are not committed to their father.

Side note: children of divorce have a much higher rate of rebellion in their lives than those who are in intact families.  Save your marriage and cherish your family unit.  If you have already made mistakes in this area, apologize to your children and commit to treating their father as you should. You will gain their respect, admiration, and will dispel some of the rebellion that may have started in them.  

 

HOW TO HELP YOUR CHILD AVOID REBELLION

 1. Never lie to them about anything (it's better to not talk about something than to tell them a lie)
 2. Always indicate you are happy to be their parent
 3. Be consistent with rewards and punishments
 4. Praise their good works often (even in small things)
 5. Do not allow passive rebellion 
 6. Keep your marriage strong
 7. Be a good example of what you want them to be
 8. Keep expectations and rules reasonable
 9.  Treat them with respect and understanding
10.  Listen when they want to talk to you

 

WHAT IF MY CHILD IS SHOWING SIGNS OF A REBELLIOUS SPIRIT?
 

First, recognize rebellion in all forms including passive rebellion.  Then, figure out in your own mind why it is taking place.  Look over the list given in this article.  What area have they lost trust in you?  The most common is inconsistency, so consider that area first.  
 

Second, change the narrative of the situation.  If they are rebellious because you have been inconsistent, apologize to them for not being consistent and assure them this is going to change... right now.  Then, follow through.  If they are rebellious because you have broken a trust in your relationship otherwise, talk to them about it, remedy it, and follow through consistently.  (In some more severe cases, this may take family counseling to solve.)
 

Third, never allow rebellion in any form.  Children should not be allowed to talk back, disobey, pout, whine, cry (unless honestly hurt), or otherwise show any sort of passive action that is inconsistent with happy compliance.  What you allow will grow. (As Barney Fife says... "Nip it in the bud!")
 

WHAT ARE SOME SIGNS OF PASSIVE REBELLION?

Do they stomp their foot, pout, whine or otherwise show a bad attitude when you tell them something to do?  This should be corrected immediately. 

Do they try to manipulate you with questions to distract you from a goal, act like they don't hear you when you talk to them, or are purposefully very slow in an act of obedience?  This should be corrected immediately.  

Do they cry or scream to get your attention?  Do they throw temper tantrums, flop on the floor when you want them to walk, refuse to come when you call them?  These behaviors should NEVER be allowed.  Take corrective measures immediately. 


YOU CAN DO THIS!

Again, I want to say… you can do this!  You can have children who will cherish their relationships with you. Who will want to please you and therefore will achieve success in their lives without rebellion against your parental authority.  It is not a given that your child will go through a "stage of rebellion". ALL TEENAGERS ARE NOT REBELLIOUS!  Building a relationship of trust and consistency can happen.  Sometimes trust takes more strength than people realize, so “man up” and be that trustworthy parent God wants you to be!
 

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