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

Like any habit, you need to work on it consistently and make it a part of your everyday life. One way that I have gained much more patience in my busy life with eight kids is by talking to myself and adapting a mantra. Find a mantra for yourself that you can recite when you feel yourself getting edgy. Mine has always been, “This Too Shall Pass.” I rely on these sacred words constantly, and because I’ve been practicing it for years now, it instantly calms me down and helps me focus on the positive. Adapting a regular patience protocol is a winning strategy when you’re dealing with explosive situations in your family and it definitely shows your child that you’re not going to fight fire with fire and retaliate with a hothead mentality.

4. Allow Your Child Some Control

Giving your child a sense of control is a good way to let them exert their independence. As I mentioned in tip #2, by allowing your tween to help decide appropriate consequences when a rule is broken, it helps him/her be part of the process instead of being dictated and controlled by you, the parent. Many times your child will intentionally try to egg you on because he knows exactly how you’ll respond—by yelling or fighting back. That essentially allows them to win because they know how to get a rise out of you. When you give them options to make choices and have some control in the matter, you’re showing them that you value their opinion, and you’ll have a much better chance at compliance.

As you navigate through a difficult time of defiance and rebellion, take time to find things that your child is doing right.

Alan Kazdin, professor of psychology and child psychiatry at Yale University and author of more than 40 books including The Kazdin Method for Parenting the Defiant Child notes that "The problem with 'defiance' is that it puts something in the child. It's not in the child. You can really make defiant children very compliant, actually, many of them, even most of them. It's in what you do to get that compliance." In Parent Acts: How to deal with a defiant child he elaborates: "The real choice is not anywhere near as important in life as the perception of choice, and so it doesn't matter that the child doesn't have a real choice. What matters is that in giving that [choice], you increase compliance."

5. Look For the Positive

Unfortunately, many of us tend to focus on the negative and what needs correcting in our children’s lives rather than what they are doing right, and when they are acting out and rebelling it’s certainly easier to tune in to their bad behavior and overlook anything that’s going well.

Instead, focus on the positive and offer encouragement when he does something desirable, no matter how small the action may be. Years ago, I learned a wonderful tip from our elementary school. It was called “Caught in the Act.” Basically the teachers and staff would look for opportunities to catch the child doing something good. If they were caught in the act of doing a good deed or exhibiting positive behavior, they were written up and given a ticket praising their good action in writing. They were thrilled and positively beamed every time they received a ticket! I loved the idea so much I implemented it in our own home, and have been doing it with my eight kids for nearly 15 years now.

As you navigate through a difficult time of defiance and rebellion, take time to find things that your child is doing right. A higher test grade than usual in a difficult subject? Getting home half an hour earlier than curfew? Getting up in the morning and not complaining about how tough her life is? When you look for the positive and reinforce these moments with a nod of praise, it definitely helps soften the rough, crusty edges of a contentious, rebellious stage.

How do you deal with a rebellious child? Share your thoughts in the comments section at quickanddirtytips.com/mighty-mommy, post your ideas on the Mighty Mommy Facebook page. or email me at mommy@quickanddirtytips.com. Visit my family-friendly boards at Pinterest.com/MightyMommyQDT

Image of rebellious kid © Shutterstock


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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