Circa 1985! Me and wifey were out; looking for a dress for my youngest V, 23 months then, for her to wear on her birthday. We narrowed down one and were waiting to pay for it when V took her mother to one side and said, “Aap yeh kharid lo, main pehnoongi nahin” (You may buy this, I will not wear it).
My wife was zapped; was angry and about to explode when I cautioned her and said, “She is right. It is her birthday and we have not even asked whether she likes it or not!”
I was all of 33, still wet behind the ears – all my tips to patients being replied as, ‘when you get your own kids, you will know’ – but I still realized that shouting my daughter into submission is not the right thing.
We made her try that and few other frocks, she ultimately selected the one we had chosen but now it was with her choice!
2 years later she almost gave minor heart attacks to both of us; we were at a school for her interview, waiting outside the principal’s office for our turn to go inside. We reminded her of what she has to say, when she looks at both of us and said, “Main kuch bhi bolne wali nahin hoon!” (I am not going to say anything). In these two years I had learnt how to handle her and said, “You don’t like this school? Don’t say anything. Come let us go. We’ll try another school for our darling chhoti baby”. She looked down, did not move, went in and after initial hesitation answered correctly and was selected.
The incident that prompted me to write this post – mother of 14-year-old boy came in crying with her son in tow, defiance writ large on his face. Before she could say anything, he burst out, “Doctor kaka, tell her I am not a child any more. She should stop ruling my life.” He was trembling with anger.
I looked at the mother; before I could ask anything, she said, “All I told him was to eat a fruit after coming back from school and since exams were approaching to play less. You know what all I have done for him. I gave up my career for him.” The boy was not moved, “So what? Don’t I have a right to decide what I want to do?” I pacified both of them and sent them away with a promise from one to the other.
Rebellion as defined by Merriam Webster dictionary is ‘open opposition to authority’.
With almost every parent recounting good deeds/achievements of their kids and not many sharing much of their tantrums/rebellious acts, other parents do not get tips on how to handle a rebellious child!
Why do children rebel?
Children rebel for a several reasons:
- Teenage rebellion: has been accepted as a set of behavioural trait that exists irrespective of socio-economic class, culture, community or race. This is the age when the child is exploring his/her identity and trying to be free from parental influence. We blame peer influence/pressure for the same; it should be taken as nature’s contribution towards child, achieving emotional independence from parents and other adults. They have to gain wider knowledge and understanding of the physical and social world with a goal to achieve increasing personal independence.
- Bad Parenting: Harsh, critical parenting (although presumably out of love and to correct them) or unloving parenting is bound to result in some form of rebellion, the degree is directly proportional to the treatment meted out. It has been seen that compliant children also rebel when faced with critical parenting (more so, if happening in front of others). Obviously, such type of parenting needs to be stopped.
- Disappointment in parents: Parents have dreams (vision) of what/how their children should be/behave. If these dreams don’t come to fruition, disappointment is very obvious. Disappointment in parents is also perceived by children and hits them harder than parents realise. In such situations kids rebel to alleviate their own pain, as they can’t do anything to please the parent they feel they have nothing to lose in behaving a little tedha (crooked).
- Now the good news: many of the strong-willed and intelligent children are rebellious. Their rebellion is characterised by an inclination to test parental limits; they possess an overzealous desire to control; all this comes with a commitment to resist all controls. These kids can ‘figure out’ people and situations around them pretty fast and come up with ways to take control of the circumstances around them. These kids, naturally, pose a challenge for parents.
- Unconditional love is the mainstay of handling rebellion; we must let children know, no matter what they may do we’ll love them.
- I have said before, we have to treat children with respect, almost like an adult; give them what we want from them i.e. attention, trust, time, independence & privacy (all at appropriate time and appropriate doses) and the result will surprise you.
- Make sure the communication channels are open.
- Do praise them, when they deserve it.
Incidentally V today is an ISB alumnus, having achieved a good GMAT score (through self-study against all our advise).
Dr Chander Asrani, father to three daughters and grand father to one, is a post-graduate in Family Medicine. He has over 35 years in clinical practice, launched www.growingwell.com in 2000 and since then has been writing on various subjects. Know more about him at about.me/drasrani.