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Mark Hutten, M.A.
Re: The Rebellious Child

What can be done about a strong-willed, rebellious child?

From time to time, most kids defy the wishes of their moms and dads. This is a part of growing up and testing adult
guidelines and expectations. It is one way for kids to learn about - and discover - their own selves, express their
individuality, and achieve a sense of autonomy. As they stretch their independent wings and engage in minor conflicts
with their moms and dads, they discover the boundaries of their parents’ rules and of their own self-control.

Sometimes, however, these conflicts are more than occasional disturbances and become a pattern for how parents
and kids interact. Disobedience can have a variety of causes. At times, it is due to confusing or unreasonable parental
expectations. Other times, it might be related to the youngster's temperament, school problems, family stress, or
conflicts between his parents.
When you have a chronically rebellious youngster,
examine the possible sources of his inner turmoil and
disobedience. If this has been a persistent pattern that
has continued into middle childhood, closely evaluate
your own family situation:

•    Are disagreements resolved through rational
discussion, or do people regularly argue or resort to

•    Do they respect one another's privacy, ideas, and
personal values?

•    Do you and your youngster have very different
personalities and ways of getting along in the world that
cause friction between you?
•    How does the family work out its conflicts?

•    How much respect do your family members show for one another?

•    How much spanking and yelling is there?

•    Is the family undergoing some especially stressful times?

•    Is your youngster having trouble succeeding at school or developing friendships?

•    What is your usual style of relating to your youngster, and what forms does discipline usually take?

If your youngster has only recently started to demonstrate disrespect and disobedience, tell him that you have noticed
a difference in his behavior and that you sense he is unhappy or struggling. With his help, try to determine the specific
cause of his frustration or upset. This is the first step toward helping him change his behavior.
If you react to your youngster's talking back by exploding
or losing your temper, he will respond with disobedience
and disrespect.

By contrast, he will become more obedient when you
remain calm, cooperative, and consistent. He will learn to
be respectful if you are respectful toward him and others
in the family. If he becomes rebellious and out of control,
impose a timeout until he calms down and regains

When your youngster is obedient and respectful,
compliment him for that behavior. Reward the behavior
you are seeking, including cooperation and resolution of
disagreements. These positive efforts will always be much
more successful than punishment.
For some rebellious kids, you may need to obtain professional mental health treatment. Here are some situations
where outside counseling may be necessary:

•    If a youngster shows signs of generalized unhappiness -- perhaps talking of feeling blue, friendless, or even suicidal

•    If a youngster's disobedience and/or disrespect is accompanied by aggressiveness and destructiveness

•    If the patterns of disobedience continue in spite of your best efforts to encourage your youngster to communicate
his negative feelings

•    If there is a persistent, long-standing pattern of disrespect of authority both at school and at home.

•    If you or your spouse or youngster use alcohol or other drugs to feel better or cope with stress

•    If your family has developed a pattern of responding to disagreements with physical or emotional abuse

If relationships within your family show signs of difficulty and lack of cooperation, then family therapy may be indicated.
By dealing with and resolving these problems at a young age, you can minimize and even prevent more serious
struggles that may emerge as your kids reach adolescence. The key is early identification and treatment.