How to Spot Rebellion in Your Child

Over the years I’ve learned to recognize rebellion in children.  I’ve seen it in the eyes of an 18 month old boy, in the lack of obedience in a 6 year old child, in the back chat and facial expression of a 13 year old, and in the quiet resistance to be told how to do something in a 19 year old.

Rebellion, plainly put, is resistance to authority.

A rebellious child will resist his parent’s efforts to direct his life and assert his will against the will of his parents. His actions or attitude are in direct defiance of parental authority.

Why should respect for authority be cultivated?

Learning to honour adult authority prepares a child for future adult responsibilities in areas of work, social relationships, and citizenship.

Most importantly it prepares a child to respect God’s authority.

Speaking of Eli and his sons, the book Patriarchs and Prophets says,

 “The father had not corrected their want of reverence for his authority, had not checked their disrespect for the solemn services of the sanctuary; and when they reached manhood, they were full of the deadly fruits of scepticism and rebellion.”          Pg 576

The Bible tells us to “Honour all men.  Love the brotherhood.  Fear God.  Honour the king.” 1 Peter 2:17  This must be cultivated from a young age.

There are two types of rebellion – passive and active.  Neither should be tolerated.

Active Rebellion:

  • Knowingly disobeying. This is wilful, conscious disobedience to commands or established rules. You tell your child to “Come here,” and he doesn’t budge.  “Stay in bed,” and she gets up.
  • Defiant verbal resistance. This is any form of back-talk or cheek.  “No,” “I’m not doing it.”  The child refuses to take no for an answer or argues relentlessly about a decision made.
  • Hitting parents. This can include slapping, biting, kicking by toddlers.  Older children may spit, and teens may use their size and strength to cause injury to their parents.
  • Temper tantrums. A toddler may hold their breath, go stiff or limp, cry uncontrollably, or fall down and pound their fists on the floor. Stomping feet, screaming, yelling, throwing things, staring and glaring, slamming doors are all active rebellion.
  • Ignoring instructions. The child does as he pleases even after you have given an instruction.  Ignoring you when you speak and refusing to answer a question is rebellion.
  • Resisting a parent-initiated action. Pulling the hand away when you reach out to take it, trying to get off the parent’s lap after being placed there. Struggling to get down while being held in the parent’s arms. (They should learn to ask to be put down or to get off your lap). Refusing to give you something they are holding in their hands (They must be made to put the object in your hand.  Don’t grab it from your child). Running away when called. Straining against the car seat, arching the back when you are putting them in. Undoing something a parent has done – messing up their hair if you’ve brushed it, taking off their shoes when you have put them on, retrieving something after you have put it away.

Passive Rebellion:

Passive rebellion is less conscious and premeditated than active rebellion.  It is more of a rebellious reaction than a planned action.  It often goes unnoticed by parents because it is subtle, and children are often unaware that they are being rebellious.

  • Consistent forgetfulness. Occasional forgetfulness is common in children, but consistent forgetfulness is a form of rebellion.  If your child can remember to meet up with friends or get dressed for school, but habitually forget to make their bed or do home chores then they are in passive rebellion.
  • External obedience with a bad attitude. Your child may obey you outwardly, but wash the dishes while sulking, grumbling, or pouting.  They may slam doors, glare, or give the silent treatment. Your toddler may allow you to dress him, but complain the whole time about having to get dressed.
  • Obeying on their own terms. Your child does not come exactly when called, or walks slowly.  Your child may postpone obedience to show who’s boss.  They may do just one more after being told to stop.  They may dictate to you when they will obey – “I’m getting a drink first,” or, “I’ll be there in a minute.”
  • Doing what is required, but not how it should be done. The bed is made, but not properly.  You direct them to sit down in their high chair and they squat.  This is partial obedience and passively resisting your will.
  • Walking away while being spoken to. Not only is this disrespectful, but it shows a heart not submitted to authority.


  • Lying to escape discipline. Premeditated lying is active rebellion but lying in the moment to escape discipline may be unconsciously done and is therefore passive. Don’t ever tolerate lying.

As a parent you are the one in charge of your home.  This is your God-given role.  You owe your children no apologies for exercising your authority.

God expects you to command your household after you – in a way that reaches the hearts of your children and not just their behaviour.

Because a child can be sitting down on the outside, but standing up on the inside.

Rebellion stems from a heart not submitted to authority. Don’t overlook the small signs of lack of submission.  I urge you to do the heart work necessary in your family.

Are you tolerating rebellion?  Are you excusing it?  Do you know what it looks like?

(List of active and passive rebellion adapted from the book Child Training Tips, Reb Bradley)

About The Author

Jennifer Lovemore

Jennifer has diplomas in relationship counselling and CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy), is a certified SYMBIS facilitator, and is certified in TPM (Transformation Prayer Minsitry). She lives in South Africa, has three grown children, and is married to her best friend – Richard.

Leave A Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.