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A group of children are sitting outside on the grass. One boy looks over his shoulder in rebellion.
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Age Level Insights: Dealing with Rebellion at Any Age

Do you have children in your ministry who rebel often? Here is expert advice on dealing with children’s rebellion at any age.


Birth to 2 years

How Children Rebel

Babies know the world only by looking, grasping, and putting things in their mouths. 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 a mother’s lap.

Ways to Respond

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

How Children Rebel

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.

Ways to Respond

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. When 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 rebellion.

8 to 12 years

How Children Rebel

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.

Ways to Respond

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.

For more great ideas like this in each issue, subscribe to Children’s Ministry Magazine today!


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Age Level Insights: Dealing with Rebe...

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