Ten Tips for Raising Kids Who Don’t Rebel
While there is no fail-proof recipe for raising kids who don’t rebel, here are 10 tips for parenting in a manner that encourages mutual respect, emotional attunement, and healthy boundaries. Children are less likely to rebel and more likely to obey if they can sense you “get” them emotionally while also “holding the line” with respectful firmness.
Get the support and education you need to wisely handle your children’s “first adolescence” when they are 2 to 4 years old. If you are usually (not perfectly, no parent is perfect) a loving, firm authority figure with your toddler and preschooler as s/he goes through the terrible twos and the torrential threes, you’ll be in a much better position to navigate them through their “second adolescence” of the teenage years. If you can’t establish yourself as an authority figure to be respected by a three-year-old, it’s going to be an uphill battle to be respected by a thirteen-year-old.
If you are married, budget time, money, and energy for building your marriage, and if you are single, for building yourself. Parents tend to skimp on their marriage and self-care, giving their kids every last bit of time, money, and energy. We can make this mistake when we believe this is what loving parents do: sacrifice it all for their children. This is not wise. This is foolish because we end up as exhausted parents of entitled children who don’t respect authority. Invest in your marriage and your self-care today. Say “no” to your children sometimes so that you can say “yes” to private conversations with your spouse or other adults, weekend getaways without kids, and maybe even the occasional week-long trip without kids. These investments strengthen you, and if your married, your parental unit, and when your children see that emotional strength, they are less likely to test your limits with outright rebellion.
When your children disobey or act out (and they all do), use the HALT method before you come down on them too hard. This means you ask yourself:
• Is my child Hungry?
• Is my child Angry?
• Is my child Lonely (or bored)?
• Is my child Tired?
These physical and emotional states make humans act out (raise your hand if you get “hangry” when you’re hungry!). The solution is not to give your kids a lecture on their lack of character and self-control. The solution is to notice your child’s physical or emotional state, and then address it. A cranky child or teen may need a snack, a nap, 15 minutes of your time, or help sorting through angry feelings. As you attune to and respond to your child’s physical and emotional states, you are training them to recognize for themselves when they need a snack or a nap or a break or a necessary confrontation. This training will help your teenager practice good self-care rather than turning to alcohol, drugs, cutting, or juvenile delinquency as a way to soothe themselves.
Stand back and allow your children to navigate age-appropriate challenges as best they can. Let them fall on their face sometimes. Let them fail sometimes, and then encourage them to try again. This encourages resiliency. Be available for consultation, but don’t jump in and rescue your children when they are facing normal childhood struggles. You want them to know how to bounce back from setbacks so that they feel competent and ready for adulthood. When you get a birds-eye view of rebellious behavior, you’ll see that much of it is based in a scared refusal to become an adult.
When your children face overwhelming challenges, don’t leave them to figure it out on their own. When our son was diagnosed with ADHD and reading/math/writing learning disabilities, and when our middle school daughter was bullied by her former best friend, we got them the help they needed—and we got ourselves help too. Be sure to budget extra time, money, and energy to helping your children successfully navigate challenges that are not the usual “kid stuff.” Access other parents and professionals to help you as you help your kids because you most likely will feel overwhelmed and confused at times too. Your child will be less likely to rebel if s/he has seen what a teachable and understanding resource you are to help them through overwhelming challenges.
Don’t give your children cell phones until they are at least 16, do not put a television or computer in their bedroom, don’t give them a video gaming device if at all possible, don’t give them an iPad or tablet, and put a timer on any screens so you can limit their viewing. All of these screens will open up your child to be influenced 24/7 by their peers and the world. In general, what your child is exposed to on a screen is more likely to encourage rebellion than not because parents are portrayed as annoying, dumb, and unworthy of respect. We followed these screen guidelines with our son and daughter. They were definitely in the minority when they didn’t get a cell phone until age 16. They hated these guidelines, but these are hills worth dying for. When our son turned 20, he told us he was going to follow the same screen guidelines with his kids someday even though he hated them as a kid.
Don’t institute rules that your child doesn’t seem to need to control his or her behavior. The more rules you have, the more opportunities for rebellion. Based on Tip #6 above, you might assume we had strict curfews for our kids, but we didn’t. In fact, we didn’t give either of them a curfew because they didn’t need one. They both managed their time pretty well, and as teen drivers, came home usually by midnight or 1 a.m. on the weekends. They seemed to get enough sleep overall, made it to church each Sunday, and weren’t out getting drunk or hanging with kids who were bad influences. If they had shown they couldn’t manage their time and behavior after dark, we would’ve instituted a curfew.
Practice your poker face so that you don’t look like you’re flipping out when your children tell you things that alarm you. The number one reason teens give for not talking to their parents is “my parents freak out if I tell them what I’m thinking about or what some of my friends are doing!” When parents overreact to an idea or behavior, kids will often respond by underreacting to the same idea or behavior (“Mom, it’s no big deal! Why do you have to make such a big deal about everything?!?”). Any original doubts your child had about the questionable idea or rebellious behavior disappear as they react to your overreaction. So, try saying “Wow, that’s interesting, tell me more” instead of freaking out.
Keep reminding yourself what it was like to be a kid or a teenager so that you can empathize instead of condemn your child when they do foolish things. You did dumb things as a child and teen, not because you were dumb, but because you were a young person with little life experience, a brain that wasn’t fully developed yet, and more hormones than good sense. The first time I caught my son looking at internet pornography (on MY phone because he didn’t have a phone!), I freaked out and harshly condemned him. It was a total mom failure. I asked God to help me do better in the future.
A few months later, when we caught our son sexting with a girl on his new phone, we didn’t freak out. We did lovingly confront him, talk to the girl’s mom, take his phone away, arrange for him to talk to his youth pastor, etc. but because we remembered our own struggle as teenagers with sexual sin, we didn’t condemn him. If your child feels harshly judged and condemned by you, they are likely to rebel (either openly or secretly) in an effort to prove that your negative opinion doesn’t matter to them (when it actually does matter tremendously to them).
Be fun parents who love to laugh and cut up with young people. Kids and teens are silly and fun. They are drawn to adults who can be silly and fun while also remaining authority figures. If you often throw a wet blanket on their silliness because you’re afraid or angry, they won’t want you around their friends or activities. Plus, they won’t learn from you how to “cut loose” in a healthy way, leaving them more likely to cut loose in unhealthy, rebellious way.
Hope this helps– happy parenting! With prayer, your time and attention, your children can be a complete joy to hang out with…it is worth the effort, make the time and enjoy every moment!
Start children off on the way they should go, and even when they are old they will not turn from it.