Rebellious Behavior In Children: Reasons And Tips To Handle

✔ Research-backed

MomJunction believes in providing reliable, research-backed information to you. As per our strong editorial policy requirements, we base our health articles on references (citations) taken from authority sites, international journals, and research studies. However, if you find any incongruencies, feel free to write to us.

Children’s tantrums and anger fits are part and parcel of their lives for parents. But dealing with rebellious kids can be one of the most stressful routines. In addition, as your child is growing, they will go through different stages of development and experience various emotional, intellectual, and physical changes.

While it may be rewarding and exciting to watch them grow into independent young adults, it can cause them to act out of impulse and rebel often over simple matters. They may start to be disrespectful or break the set rules.

It is best to avoid yelling and punishing and focus on the triggers. This post will help you know the reasons behind your child’s rebellious behavior and what to do about it.

In This Article

Reasons For Rebellious Behavior In Children

Don’t let your child’s rebellious behavior distress you. Instead, learn the reason behind their behavior and address it in the right way. Here are some possible reasons your child acts defiant and rebellious (1) (2) (3).

1. Asserting control and independence

Asserting control and independence

Image: Shutterstock

While growing up, children like to have substantial control over their lives and seek independence. They like to make their own decisions, take control over what they wear, who they hang out with, what they want to do in their free time, etc. Thus, they may act out or rebel when authoritative figures take charge or when you doubt their decision-making abilities. Let them experience more freedom, but also teach them that with greater freedom comes greater responsibility.

2. Exploring their identity

As children grow, they explore their identity. They begin to question things and ask themselves, “What do I want to do in life?” “What am I doing?” “Who am I?” etc., to try and find answers to understand their individuality. When parents don’t help children understand more about their identity, they may show signs of rebellion.

3. Testing the waters

Sometimes, children may do something or act in a certain way to ascertain if the behavior is acceptable. Children love to experiment, and thus, they may do something to test your patience and see how far they can continue with an action before facing the consequences.

4. Succumbing to peer pressure

Peer pressure may make children rebellious

Image: IStock

Not only in middle school but even at a preschool level, peers influence children. They’ll do just about anything to fit in and feel accepted. When they succumb to peer pressure, along the way, they go off track and, rather than being themselves, act like someone else. Thus, instead of listening to parents or family members, they look the other way and do what they feel is right.

5. Seeking attention

It is typical for children to desire attention and validation. If you are occupied and cannot be present, they may resort to extreme measures to get your attention. If they don’t receive enough attention, they may seek it in negative ways, such as through rebellion, revolt, defiance, and often uprising.

6. Dealing with an underlying problem

Sometimes, rebellious behavior can be triggered by underlying issues, such as bullying, low self-esteem, and anxiety. Data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reveals that middle schools have the highest incidence of bullying, accounting for 28% of reported cases, while high schools at 16%. Combined schools and primary schools report comparatively lower rates of bullying, at 12% and 9%, respectively. Do not brush these off as typical behavior in children; pay close attention to your child’s behavior. Take the help of caretakers or teachers to get to the root of the problem.

protip_icon Quick fact
Strict parental rules and punishments are another reason that often leads children to rebel against their parents or authority figures as they grow older (6).

24 Ways To Deal With A Child Who Shows Rebellious Behavior

Rebellious behavior in children can be annoying and can test your patience. However, with a few tips, you can manage this behavior and discipline your child wisely.

1. Set reasonable expectations

Set realistic expectations to deal with a rebellious kid

Image: IStock

Following the house rules, showing acceptable behavior, going to bed on time, etc., are expected from a child. These are reasonable expectations to have because you care and want the best for them. Sometimes, children may act unhappy about the expectations their parents place, especially if they are unreasonable. Set realistic expectations based on your child’s age and strengths and weaknesses, and never compare them with other children.

2. Pick your battles

Not all family conflicts are worth your energy and time. As parents, decide which battles are worth fighting and which can be let go. If your child wants to wear funky clothes or paint their fingernails, think twice before you object. While such actions can be shocking to you, they’re harmless and temporary acts of disobedience. Instead, concentrate on battles that truly need your attention to protect your child’s well-being. For instance, you can encourage them to avoid bad company or tell them the ill effects of getting a tattoo.

3. Put yourself in their shoes

Every story has two sides. Similarly, every conflict has your story and your child’s. If you promised to take your child to the park but changed your mind due to the rain, instead of saying no, see things from their perspective and explain the reason. This way, they will not rebel or protest because you broke your promise, and you’ll be able to salvage the situation.

4. Warn them of potential dangers

Children love to experiment. Sometimes, experimenting can lead to insubordination. Before it’s too late, talk to them about the ill effects of tobacco, alcohol, etc. Discussing such things even before they have tried them results in higher chances of your children avoiding them.

5. Set appropriate rules

Set clear rules around the house. For instance, set their bedtime, playtime, and study time. You could also ask them to put the dishes in the sink after they eat, put their uniforms in the laundry basket after school, and brush their teeth before bed. These rules are appropriate for children and need to be strictly followed by them. You could occasionally reward them for their good behavior and take away privileges when they show disrespectful behavior or don’t comply with the rules.

6. Explain the logic behind the rules you set

Children may not fully comprehend the reason behind some of the rules. For instance, they might wonder why they should sleep at nine, while you can stay up until midnight. Rather than ordering them to go to bed, if you can explain that, as children, their body is still growing, and they need eight to nine hours of sleep, they’ll probably understand better and not act rebellious. If you lay down a rule and explain the rationale behind it, they’re more likely to accept it.

7. Be respectful

Children often come across as disrespectful and act rude to authoritative figures, which can be frustrating. If you respond in a similar manner, it can prove counterproductive and spark mutiny. Regardless of how you feel, you must model the behavior you want your child to display. If your child sees you responding disrespectfully, they will mirror you, assuming it’s appropriate. So, always respond calmly and respectfully, even if it means embracing nonconformity.

Idzie Desmarais, a twenty-year-old, recalls in her blog how her parents ensured that they respectfully parented her and her sister during their teenage years, thus never giving them a reason to be rebellious, ”My (and my sister’s) relationship with my parents is really good. We talk to each other about everything, from how we’ve been feeling, what we’ve been doing, interesting links online or news stories, and what our friends are up to. We don’t stray away from subjects such as drug use and other illegal activity. I’ll cheerfully announce that a friend is taking up graffiti, and Emi will call to say she’s headed out to a bar after band practice, so expect her home late. I’ve never worried about coming home smelling like weed. And because of the relationship we have, my sister and I have never hesitated to get our parents’ help when we’re worried about a friend doing hard drugs, and we’d never hesitate to call instead of driving home with someone who’s drunk (i).”

8. Focus on one behavior at a time

If your child acts rebellious in different ways, it can be exhausting to address all the problems in one go. Instead, pick the behavior that bothers you the most and work on how to improve it. For instance, if your child does not do their homework, does not eat enough veggies, and disrespects everyone in the family, you need to determine which behavior needs to be dealt with on priority. Once you manage to deal with it effectively, you can move on to the next.

9. Have a plan

Your child’s rebellious behavior can cause you to become emotional or angry. Have a few approaches in mind that you can employ in different situations, and use them to deliver your message calmly. While this won’t instantly solve the problem, it will certainly help you come to a conclusion sooner and resolve the problem peacefully and without resorting to yelling or dissent.

10. Set consequences

Once you determine which family rules are important, ask your child to stick to them and set consequences for breaking them. Follow through with the consequences the moment you see your child breaking a rule, or they will undermine your authority or ignore your requests. For instance, if they haven’t cleaned their room, you can say, “You didn’t clean your room, so you won’t be allowed to go out and play.” Also, don’t rescue your child from the consequences — this will only encourage further subversion and defiance.

protip_icon Quick tip
Give descriptive praises whenever your child behaves well to acknowledge their efforts. It will motivate them to overcome their behavioral issues.

11. Set up your child for good behavior

Ensure you do your best to prevent rebellious behavior. For instance, if your child doesn’t like broccoli but likes spinach, do not force them to eat broccoli. Slowly and steadily, you can introduce more vegetables into their diet. Similarly, if your child gets cranky when they have too many things on the weekends or after school, give them some extra time to go from one thing to another. This way, their chance at rebelling comes down, and you set them up to feel good.

12. Take advantage of your child’s verbal skills

As compared to when your child was a toddler, now you have the distinct advantage of dealing with the insurrection — you can talk it out. Discuss your child’s needs and calmly come to a solution that works for both of you.

protip_icon Quick tip
Avoid being sarcastic when you talk to your child. Instead, have an open and honest conversation with a hint of humor to hold their interest in the conversation.

13. Compromise when you can

Compromise sometimes to fulfill their wishes

Image: IStock

If your child is adamant about wearing a thin dress to a dinner party on a cold night, rather than engaging in a battle, it is best you compromise. Suggest that they can wear the dress but should carry along a jacket or sweater. Instead of responding with rebellion, if they learn to meet you halfway in minor issues, it can go a long way when dealing with major ones too.

14. Give them choices

Sometimes, when a child rebels, it’s perhaps because they feel they’re not being heard or want a say in how or when they do things. You can make your child feel like they have some control by giving them choices. For instance, when you tell them that the toys should be put away, instead of giving them a specific time, tell them they have to put away the toys before dinner or before they go to bed.

15. Act, don’t react

When you witness your child acting out, don’t lose your calm or temper. Instead, step back and tell your child that you disapprove of the behavior, and they need to stop. Tell them you’ll discuss the inappropriate behavior at a time when they’re calm and enforce consequences. You can then use the time to calm yourself and let them think about their actions and potential consequences.

16. Encourage them to make their own decisions

As a parent, you can make the decisions for toddlers and young children. However, for older children, encourage them to make their own decisions. They may make a mistake or two but step in only when absolutely necessary. They’ll enjoy the independence to make decisions. From picking an outfit for a party to coloring their room in a color of their choice, let them decide. Decision-making is something that can stand them in good stead and spark a behavior revolution.

17. Don’t take it personally

Your child isn’t refusing to pick up their toys or eat their lunch to frustrate you intentionally. It is a way of showing you that they feel disconnected or something is off track. Instead of assuming they’re doing it for attention, look at it as a way of giving them the attention and the connection they crave. It’s bad enough they’re rebelling, but if you act out, it can be counterproductive. Show them love, and things will turn around.

18. Do something nice for your child

It’s not always about rules and proper behavior. Sometimes, letting them loose and doing something nice for them can go a long way in strengthening your relationship. Simple gestures, such as buying them a book they like, making them their favorite snack, and helping them get dressed, can let them feel your love.

19. Give them space

When a child is acting out, all you want to do is hover around and make sure they’re doing the right thing. Sometimes, this can be overwhelming for the child. Giving them the space to do what they want will help get their actions in control and allow them to think for themselves.

20. Try to uncover if there’s anything else going on with your child

Typically, when a toddler, young child, or teen displays rebellious behavior, it may be a sign of an underlying issue. So rather than focusing on how your child is acting, try to diagnose the underlying cause. A sudden behavior change can be due to multiple reasons, such as bullying, low self-esteem, or anxiety. Sit with them and help them open up.

21. Share your feelings with your child

Tell them how you feel about their behavior

Image: IStock

Sometimes, your child may feel you have all the power in the house, while they have none. Restore balance by sharing how you feel. When you tell them their behavior is inappropriate, also tell them how you feel.

For instance, when they act out or stay up past their bedtime, instead of forcing them to go to bed, you can say you’re worried that they won’t get enough sleep and that they will feel cranky the next day. Similarly, if they walk away or slam the door when you’re talking, you can tell how you feel disrespected. When you share your feelings, your child will become more understanding and less rebellious.

22. Refrain from judging them

When your child makes choices or acts out, avoid making judgmental statements. Specific statements beginning with “You never…” or “You always…” will make your child defend themselves, act out, or think of themselves as a problem. This may make them resort to rebellious behavior.

23. Don’t lose hope

Know that behavioral changes don’t happen or go away in one night. They take time to break, so don’t lose hope. Patience and consistency are key. With time and by following the tips mentioned in this post, you’ll gradually see the results.

24. Ask for help

At any point in time, do not hesitate to ask for help from your support system. Talk to a friend over coffee or your mother on the phone, and soon you’ll feel less burdened. Put your feelings out there and be open to feedback.

Frequently Asked Questions

1. At what age do children start being rebellious?

Children usually start to show signs of rebellion from early adolescence ranging from about 9 to 13 years of age (4). Eventually, it might peak during the teenage years.

2. Is rebellion behavior a genetic issue?

A few studies state that specific genes may contribute to a child expressing bad or rebellious behavior, but only if the child is not monitored by their parents (5).

3. What is rebellious behavior?

Rebellion in children can be verbal and physical. Verbally, the child refuses to comply with rules, commands, and requests. They talk back when spoken to and challenge authority. Physically, the child declines the request to perform an action or refuses to cease an action. They refuse to budge over something and continue being involved with something they were restricted from doing.

4. What are the characteristics of rebellion?

Rebellion in children is of two types; rebellion against social norms and rebellion against authority (6). When children rebel against social norms, they refuse to conform to social standards. Rebellion against authority means going against parents, teachers, and other figures that exercise authority over them.

Some common characteristics of rebellion are:

  • Indulging in self-defeating or self-destructive behavior
  • Experimenting with drugs and alcohol
  • Skipping school or neglecting school responsibilities
  • Breaking the rules and laws
  • Engaging in risky activities such as extreme or violent sports

5. What is a rebellious child’s ego state?

Psychiatrist Eric Berne developed the Transactional Analysis, which explained the ‘Ego state’ of a person. It refers to how we think, feel, and behave (7).

There are three types of ego states, of which a child’s ego state refers to innate impulses. Child’s ego deals with spontaneous feelings, creativity, and playfulness. So, when a person experiences something they did as a child and reacts to it the same way they did at that time, they are going through their child ego state.

6. Why are younger siblings rebellious?

In his book, ‘Born to Rebel,’ author Frank Sulloway states that the younger sibling tends to be more rebellious than the older child because they either identify relatively less with their parents. Also, they despise becoming a clone of the ideal older sibling. They wish to carve a path of their own and often follow non-traditional ways (6).

Children often seem rebellious when they want their independence and control, explore their identities, and seek attention. While growing independent and having control over life is a good sign, you may often find it challenging to deal with your rebellious kids. No matter how hard or impossible their behavior looks, yelling or being annoyed may not be the right way to tackle children’s rebellion. To handle a rebellious child, set realistic expectations, warn them of potential dangers, be respectful, and be ready to compromise. Using these tips may help you manage your children’s unruly behavior. However, remember that it needs constant effort and patience to bring about this change, and you cannot expect children to change their behavior all of a sudden.

Infographic: Things To Consider While Dealing With A Rebellious Child

Almost every child goes through a rebellious phase. While it is expected, how you help them navigate through this stage is what is essential for their rebellion to not turn into a mean character trait. So now that you know the ways to deal with them, you should know how to implement those strategies and things to be mindful of during the teaching process.

remember these while handling your child’s rebellion (infographic)

Illustration: Momjunction Design Team

Key Pointers

  • Children may rebel to seek attention or try to be independent and explore their identity.
  • Instead of snapping at them, empathizing would help the situation.
  • Be respectful and set appropriate rules to control their behavior. It may help to explain the cause behind each rule to them.
  • Explain the consequences of breaking the rules and take things slowly.
Rebellion Kids_illustration

Image: Dall·E/MomJunction Design Team

Acquire valuable insights into comprehending and effectively managing the behavior of a rebellious child. Learn practical strategies for nurturing their growth and skillfully addressing their challenging conduct with expert guidance and proven techniques.

Personal Experience: Source


MomJunction's articles are written after analyzing the research works of expert authors and institutions. Our references consist of resources established by authorities in their respective fields. You can learn more about the authenticity of the information we present in our editorial policy.

1. The adolescent brain: Beyond raging hormones; Harvard Health Publishing
2. Adolescent Development; The National Academics of Sciences Engineering Medicine
3. Rebel With A Cause: Rebellion In Adolescence; CommonLit
4. Identifying rebellion in your teenager; Shepherd’s Hill Academy
5. Genes May Contribute to a Child’s Bad Behavior, but Only When Parents Are Distant; Association For Psychological Science.
6. Rebel With A Cause:: Rebellion In Adolescence.
7. Transactional Analysis.

Was this article helpful?
Like buttonDislike button
Dr. Maymunah Yusuf Kadiri, popularly referred to as ‘The Celebrity Shrink,’ is an award-winning neuro-psychiatrist and mental health advocate with over 15 years experience.She is the medical director and psychiatrist-in-chief at Pinnacle Medical Services.

Read full bio of Dr. Maymunah Yusuf Kadiri
Apoorva K
Apoorva KMSc (Counseling Psychology)
Apoorva is a certified psychological counselor and NLP practitioner. The assistant professor-turned-writer believes that her experience as a teacher, psychologist, and researcher enables her to guide MomJunction readers on child development and mental health.

Read full bio of Apoorva K
Dr. Ritika Shah is a certified lactation counsellor (CLC) from iNational Health Care Academy, Singapore and a dental surgeon with more than seven years of clinical experience across various cities in India. She did her graduation in Dentistry from KM Shah Dental College.

Read full bio of Dr. Ritika Shah
Vidya Tadapatri
Vidya TadapatriMSc (Biotechnology)
Vidya did her post-graduation in Biotechnology from Osmania University, Hyderabad. Her interest in scientific research and writing made her pursue a career in writing, in which she now has over five years of experience. She has done certified biotechnology-related training programs under renowned organizations such as Centre For Cellular & Molecular Biology and Department of Biotechnology.

Read full bio of Vidya Tadapatri