5 Strategies to Handle a Rebellious Child

It’s easy and normal to feel despair and a sense that you’re losing control when your child begins to exhibit rebellious behaviors. Here are five ways to combat rebellion so you can relish time with your offspring once again.


Cheryl Butler
7-minute read
Episode #474

image of a rebellious kid

For the past decade or so of my parenting journey, I’ve had at least four teenagers at a time. Many gasp at this because they have their hands full with only one or two teens. After spending one summer with four kids under the age of three, I consider having a boatload of teens a piece of cake!

Parenting tweens and teens can definitely be a mixed bag of emotional discoveries. It’s exciting and rewarding to see your child begin to gain greater independence and grow into a young adult who will be venturing out in the real world where he/she will make a positive difference in the lives of others. On the other hand, most teens don’t just arrive at their destiny without a few emotional hiccups along the way. This includes behaviors such as disrespect, being sneaky, manipulating the rules you’ve created for your household, having negative attitudes and, at times, full blown rebellion.

It’s easy and normal to feel despair and a sense that you’re losing control when your child begins to exhibit rebellious behaviors, but there are strategies you can put in place if your contentious young adult starts to give you lots of grief. Here are five ways to combat rebellion so you can relish time with your offspring once again.

5 Strategies to Handle a Rebellious Child

  1. What’s Happening?
  2. Reevaluate Your Rules and Discipline
  3. Practice Patience
  4. Allow Your Child Some Control
  5. Look for the Positive

Let's explore these rebellion management tips in more detail.

1. What’s Happening

Some parents are surprised when their once easy-going and pleasant-tempered child seems to change personalities overnight. It might start with some flip backtalk when you ask your daughter to remember to get her tennis gear out of the entryway before someone trips on it. Or your once-responsible tween son has decided he’s no longer going to walk the dog and take out the trash before he starts his homework, if in fact he even does his homework anymore. Huh? What’s up with that?

Parents know their kids better than anyone, so if you’re noticing different behaviors that just don’t reflect the personality you’re used to seeing, do some investigating to figure out what might be going on. It might be something as simple as having a crush on a girl in biology class who isn’t giving him the time of day or maybe your daughter is being bullied by the mean girls during lunch.

It’s quite normal, however, for most teens to test authority when they want to exert their independence and get out from under their parent’s constant watch and supervision. In addition, studies have shown that a teen’s brain is still not done forming and growing which also leads to emotional outbursts. David Elkind, PhD, author of All Grown Up and No Place to Go and professor of child development at Tufts University School of Medicine in Boston, explains that “During the teenage years, the area of the brain called the prefrontal cortex is developing. This is the part of your brain that is behind your forehead. It's your thinking cap and judgment center, which means kids can now develop their own ideals and ideas.” He elaborates that “In turn this means that younger children don't see the flaws in their parents, whereas adolescents suddenly see the world more realistically.”

By being tuned in as to why your child is starting to buck the rules in your home, you have a better starting point to course correct this negative behavior.

2. Reevaluate Your Rules and Discipline

If you’ve always been a household that has had rules such as expectations for homework, strict curfews, and a zero tolerance policy on disrespect, you’re lucky that boundaries are already established and your child knows the deal. If you’ve been wishy-washy or inconsistent with rules, it’s time to figure out your bottom line on what’s acceptable and not in your home and then stick with it.

Regardless of whether you’ve had rules in place or not, now is the time to reevaluate this scenario and either tweak things to accommodate the stage your family is now at or establish new guidelines going forward. More importantly, however, is that you need to take the time to review these with your kids. Don’t screech and threaten that you will have new rules effective immediately in the heat of the moment after your child just came home with a failing report card or after he’s called you a lazy wench because you won’t help him clean his room. Call a family meeting when everyone is calm and present the rules then.

If you’re going to set rules, however, you need to enforce them. This means being consistent which truthfully is half the battle when it comes to parenting! In 4 Ways to Handle Teenage Defiance and Rebellion, my QDT colleague Dr. Ellen Hendriksen recommends including your tween or teen in creating solutions for chronically disrespectful situations. This is a win/win for both parent and child because when a rebellious action takes place, you can enforce the discipline that he/she decided was fair.

3. Practice Patience

Patience is a virtue in many aspects of life, but when it comes to parenting—boy, is it ever! We live in such a world of instant gratification—microwaved meals, instant credit, announcements in the blink of an eye on social media venues—so when we are faced with difficulties on the home front, it’s only natural that you want the problem to go away instantaneously. Unfortunately, correcting a bad or disturbing behavior takes time, and it’s here that you must rely on patience. My favorite tip in my article on ways to be a more patient parent is to practice patience daily.


About the Author

Cheryl Butler

Cheryl L. Butler is the mother of eight children. Her experiences with infertility, adoption, seven pregnancies, and raising children with developmental delays have helped her become a resource on the joys and challenges of parenting. Call the Mighty Mommy listener line at 401-284-7575 to ask a parenting question. Your call could be featured on the show!

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