How to Handle Rebellious Children

By Stephen Maughan
Some kids can be more rebellious than others.
Some kids can be more rebellious than others.

It's part of growing up that small children can sometimes be rebellious, they are, after all, still learning what the rules of the world are. From the dreaded "terrible twos" until they start school, kids are renowned for being rebellious and difficult. They are learning about their own independence and free will. There may be times when their rebellion seems out of control, and you're not sure how to respond. Rest assured, there are a few tried and tested things to do that will calm your child, and help you get back in control.

Confront the situation. If he always makes a scene at the grocery store if you don't buy him candy, then don't give in and buy him candy just to keep him happy (and quiet). This will only make him think the more upset he acts, the more likely it is he will get a treat. Instead say in a clear voice you don't buy candy if he gets so angry. You might have a screaming child to take home, but promise him next time if he is good at the store he will be rewarded with another treat like a balloon or kids magazine. Once he learns that good behavior is rewarded things will be smoother for both of you.

Stay calm and in control. This may be hard when your child is telling you straight out “No bedtime" after a long and busy day, and you just want to relax and watch some TV. Children enjoy winding up their parents. Remember that you are the adult, and try to show a little empathy and understanding. If the child is refusing to go to bed you could say, “You need to sleep now, otherwise you will be too tired for Mommy to take you to the playground in the morning."

Use praise. Kids love being rewarded and praised by their parents. So If they have eaten their vegetables, let them know how proud you are of them, and they are more likely to eat them again in the future. When they act rebellious you can also say something like “Oh dear, Mommy is sad now that you hit your little brother." Over time this will sink in, and they won't want to do things that make you “sad.”

Motivate your child to be good. From the age of 3 children can understand the concept of a reward chart, where she gets to move up the ladder for good behavior. If she makes it to the top of the chart, you give her a treat. It can help motivate your child if you let her choose her own reward. For younger children who are too small for rewards charts, you can give her stickers for good behavior. According to psychologist G.C. Davenport, a reward will subconsciously motivate even a small child to repeat the same good behavior.


If the rebellious actions are ongoing, try to think of what may be causing your child to act this way. Children can be rebellious to hide feelings of hurt or disappointment. Moving home, family problems or starting a new nursery school can be be upsetting to children.