As an educator, I have been asked this famous question by most parents. “My child is so naughty, I can’t handle it. How can I get my child to stop being rebellious and listen to me?”
Do you relate to that? Perhaps your child is a teenager in Secondary school and you are having a hard time getting him/her to listen to you. You get into a loop of trying to talk to your child respectfully, receiving little to no response, or even a negative response. You felt frustrated and raised your voice. This cycle repeats itself for what feels like a lifetime. You find yourself wondering why your child would not listen when you are doing it for his/her own good.
Let’s take a look back at our own teenage years…
Personally, I was rebellious too and I believe most of us were. However, we rebelled to various degrees. I was probably on the mild end while I have friends who took it to the extreme and police cars were seen in school.
Yet, I ask myself why did I act the way I did? My answer? I honestly have no idea what happened, but I remember feeling anger towards things. I did not enjoy being nagged or told what to do. I did not enjoy being around my parents at all and would crave to be with my friends more. As I grew up, I started to understand more and let’s understand it together.
Three ‘rebellious’ stages
Initially, I wrote this article targeting teenagers because that's the stage we commonly perceive as rebellious. However, a child experiences three different rebellious stages in their lives. Surprise, surprise, surprise!
(Before I go on, I would like to mention that the ages stated in this article are a gauge, you might find your child experiencing them before the ages mentioned by it occurs generally around these ages.)
The first stage begins at three years old, second stage at nine years old, and third stage at 14 years old, which we know as the teenage age. So why didn’t we know that our child was undergoing the rebellious stage before teenage years? Or why are they the hardest to manage at 14? What are the signs for me to recognise the different stages?
1st stage: At three years old
You will observe a sudden change in behaviour with your child as he/she approaches three years old. If your child has always been sweet and happy-go-lucky without throwing many tantrums, you may begin to see more episodes of tantrum throwing. Perhaps even throwing toys or being aggressive with people around them.
Children at this age experience waves of emotions. They know basic emotions like happiness, sadness, anger, and fear at two years old. However, at three, they begin to experience these emotions strongly and unexpectedly. They experience intense emotions within but their physical development has not caught up with the emotions.
Imagine Tweety Bird having a huge head but a small body. That's what a three-year-old is like. Waves of intense emotions that they are unable to regulate and express physically. Hence, you observe the child throwing more tantrums suddenly and unexpectedly.
What you can do:
Stay calm and do not fight against your child at this stage - don’t fight head-to-head when your child is crying or throwing tantrums. Striking hard and strong can make them feel angry and take longer to calm down.
Bring your child for a walk. When your child is acting up, take your child away and go for a walk. Walking is therapeutic for both adults and children.
Ask your child if he/she is ready to talk. After your child is calm, ask if they are ready to speak. Talk to them calmly if they show signs that they are ready. If they say no or walk away from you, do not push and try again shortly.
Start teaching about emotions to your child and providing alternatives. Do this at two years old and when your child begins to throw a tantrum, use the opportunity to provide alternatives to toy throwing or physically harming others.
2nd stage: At nine years old
At nine, the child shows mild signs of being rebellious. In Singapore’s context, nine years old is at Primary Three level. One of the common signs will be the refusal to do homework. They also like to question the purpose of you asking them to do things. Like asking you “Why do I have to go to this event?”, “Why do I have to complete my homework?”.
At this stage, children at this age are not experiencing huge waves of emotion. Their physical bodies are also able to handle emotions better. What is developing now is their cognitive development. They are trying to comprehend the logic behind things and are curious about the things they do.
This is the stage where you want to build more trust between you and your child. With trust, your child will feel safe in sharing their emotions and thoughts with you which is the key to their next rebellious stage.
What you can do:
Be patient and explain the rationale for things to your child. Even if you have to explain and repeat over and over again.
Watch your tone. It can be frustrating to see incomplete homework or be questioned as to why they have to do it. However, it is critical to remain calm to build trust.
Request instead of forcing. Request your child to help you by completing their homework together instead of forcing them to complete it because they have to.
3rd stage: At 14 years old
At 14, a teenager might talk back, refuse to listen at all, and get into multiple misbehaviors. We are familiar with this stage and for some, it can last over a year. This is also the stage where teenagers seek comfort with their friends instead of family and begin to detach themselves from their parents. They might no longer feel the need to get assistance from their parents and would rather handle things on their own.
Teenagers at this stage are trying to fully comprehend their emotions and thoughts. Many might feel anger towards their home environment or seek validation from friends or on social media. As parents, you fear and worry about their safety but you will also realise that they are unwilling to listen to you. They naturally perceive your advice as nagging and brush it off.
What you can do:
Keep calm and do not fight with your teenager. Similar to how you dealt with children when they were three, don't be headstrong with your teenager.
You want your teenager to be able to come to you for advice instead of avoiding you. Hence, watch your actions. Be a role model for them by listening with intention when they are communicating with you instead of brushing them off.
Be a role model. Do what you would like others to do. You want them to trust you, but you've got to trust them too. You want them to listen and communicate respectfully. You model it first.
Draw boundaries. Sit down and discuss boundaries with your teenager. What are some rules you have to set within the household for everyone to abide by? What are some rules you can be lenient with? What degree of freedom can you give your teenager?
If there is only one thing to take away from this article, it will be to always seek ways to encourage your child to trust and bond with you instead of rebelling against you. Instead of getting frustrated with incomplete work or being disrespected, take the time to understand why your child displays such behaviour. By providing a safe environment for your child to communicate with you as soon as possible, you will have a less difficult time dealing with these stages. You will be amazed by the results you get when you establish a safe environment and dedicate five to ten minutes a day to being fully present as parents.
About the Author
Hey there, I am Joan Toh. An Early Childhood Practitioner and Writer. In the day, I work with a childcare centre as a Trainee Teacher as I complete my teaching diploma. At night, I do sports and keep an active lifestyle. I truly believe that parents and educators are the best role model for children.
I've been in the Education industry for more than 10 years with children across a wide range of age group (6 months to 16 years). I have been a private tutor, right brain enrichment instructor, math enrichment teacher, and now, an upcoming preschool teacher.
Over the years, I saw the shift in parenting style and realised how much parents will benefit when I share my educational tips with them. Hence, I've decided to start writing. In here, you will get a range of topics and personal experiences which will help you in all areas of development of your child - physical, cognitive, and socio-emotional. For more info, check out my website here.