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Dealing with REBELLION



Birth to 2 years

Babies know the world only by looking, grasping, and putting
things in their mouth. Care-givers may think children “rebel” when
they cry for no apparent reason. Infants may “rebel” by reacting
negatively when they are separated from their mothers. The new
reactions of a previously agreeable infant are perfectly normal and
part of learning that there is a world beyond mother’s lap.

Understand and accept that God gives even newborns the ability to
display unique temperaments. Some researchers have concluded that
there are three general kinds of babies: easy, difficult, and
slow-to-warm-up. Provide comfort and warmth. Gently talk to and
hold babies.

3 to 4 years

Children at this age are less likely to obey adults when they’re
tired, ill, hungry, or emotionally upset. They’ll whine and scream
because adults don’t understand what children need. Children may
rebel by taking something away from another child even after
they’ve been told to keep their hands to themselves.

Listen carefully to understand the needs of younger children.
Respond to their needs. If they’re hungry, give them a snack; if
they’re tired, encourage them to rest. If they don’t want to share
their toys, explore why sharing upsets them. Model Christ’s love by
giving kids affection.

5 to 7 years

How children rebel
The rebellious child at this age is often a nonconformist. For
example, some children may not want to be quiet because they’re not
in a quiet mood. They like being noisy and are surprised by your
need for quiet. Children at this age may not understand another’s
feelings. They may rebel because they don’t fully understand the
consequences of their behavior. They may continue playing loudly
even after being told to keep quiet. Children want a reason for
obeying a rule.

Ways to respond
The Bible advises never to drive children to frustration (Colossians 3:21). Offer choices. For example
say, “You can play quietly with others or play by yourself.” Or “Do
you want to clean up the crayons on the table or pick up the scraps
of paper?” Give “I” messages. “When you don’t clean up your play
area, it means more work for me and it makes me unhappy.” Balance
your demands on a child with warmth and reason. Explain why you
have a rule. Setting limits in a loving way minimizes children’s

8 to 12 years

Older children sometimes rebel to gain attention. That’s because
they may have observed the attention other children receive after
they disobey. Sometimes children observe that their parents
disregard authority, such as going through stop signs or littering.
In this case, kids may rebel to become more mature. They also rebel
when adults are overly permissive or unduly harsh. Then children
will search for limits to know where they stand.

Ephesians 6:4 says to “not treat children in
such a way as to make them angry.” Allow children this age to
grumble a little while they obey a rule they don’t like (unless it
turns insulting or hostile). “Feeling” statements provide a tension
release. Let children know you trust them and recognize their
ability to work on their own. Praise them for a job well done.
Consistently enforce rules. Tell older children just what you
expect and what the consequences if they disobey. Replay an
inappropriate event or action. For example, ask, “What could you’ve
done differently?” This helps kids demonstrate their growing
maturity and behave differently the next time.

Les Parrott III, Ph.D. is a psychologist working with children
of all ages and the author of Helping the Struggling Adolescent. He
resides in Washington state.

Copyright© Group Publishing, Inc. / Children’s Ministry

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