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.

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 are if they disobey. Replay an inappropriate event or action. For example, ask, “What could you have done differently?” This helps kids demonstrate their growing maturity and behave differently the next time.

Les Parrott, Ph.D. is an author, psychology professor, and co-founder of the Center for Healthy Relationships at Olivet University. Learn more about the work Les and his wife, Leslie, do here.

Looking for more teaching tips? Check out these ideas! You can also check out Group’s online Group U Course: Classroom Management: From Control to Cooperation, where you can learn more ways on how to create and maintain an age-appropriate environment of cooperation and friendship.

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