How Inviting Rebellion Makes Your Life Much Easier

Rebellion. It’s often seen as a dangerous and incredibly irritating part of parenting. But the truth is that rebellion is a crucial part of human development. I know, I know, it’s super annoying when the first thing out of your child’s mouth is “NO!” and you’re trying desperately to find non-violent ways to get your child to perform the necessary tasks of daily life.

And the key to my sanity during this time has been two fold.

First, recognize that rebellion is actually a good thing.

Whaaat??? Yes, that’s right. Rebellion means your child realizes that he’s an individual with his own desires, which are separate from yours. While that might be uncomfortable for us, it’s quite a milestone for our kids. They’re learning to assert themselves and to take a stand, even when it might not be popular. The practice they’re engaged in now, rebelling against you, could help them resist peer pressure later, which is something we all want our kids to be able to do.

The second realization which has made my life MUCH easier during this transition to more independence and autonomy is simply this:

what we resist, persists.

When I’m doing all I can to force my daughter to do what I want despite her arguments, she will resist me. In a way it’s her JOB to resist me. How else can she establish herself as separate from me?

So I’ve implemented a strategy that magically meets everyone’s needs. I invite the rebellion. I create opportunities for my daughter to “rebel” in ways that actually help me out. Her resistance suddenly becomes useful, rather than annoying. I protest loudly about how much I DON’T want her to put on her shoes, climb into her carseat, go to the bathroom independently, or put away her toys. I go over the top, whining, yelling, and carrying on.

My daughter loves this. She knows that it’s a game, but it still seems to meet her needs for rebellion because she gets to say, “No! I’m going to do it MY way.” And she delights in my moans and groans about how I’m not getting what I want. She feels powerful and in charge of herself and she thinks it’s hilarious to see me bumbling and fumbling and inept.

The fact that we both understand that this is a game makes it SO MUCH easier for me too. Because struggling to get her to do something she doesn’t want to do is really quite painful for both of us. And it often leads to tears when I give up on convincing her and instead force her into compliance. While it does happen sometimes, I find that using force almost never leaves us feeling more connected afterward. We inevitably have the, “Mommy, you hurt my feelings,” conversation and I end up apologizing and lamely trying to justify my actions.

So instead, I’ve been practicing strategically giving up my power. My daughter still knows that I’m in charge and that if I feel it’s necessary, I can force her to do things like give me the scissors. Although there is a limit to how long we can rely upon our greater size, strength, and cunning to overpower our kids.

I’d rather cultivate a strategy that allows her to feel powerful and free, even as she’s doing the very things I want.

I don’t see this as tricking her, since we both know it’s a game. Instead, it’s helping her to exercise her rebelliousness in a healthy and productive way. I’m engineering the game so that it’s a win-win.

Children long to be powerful and independent, which is a good thing, since they’ll go from infants to adults in a mere 18 years. And by the way, when they’re teenagers they’re likely to rebel again. Will we be able to invite the rebellion and create win-win opportunities then too?

There are lots of ways to play games that allow your child to be the powerful one. And I find that playing power games meets children’s needs for power and rebellion so that much of the time they’re far more cooperative and compliant.

Here are a few ideas to get you started:

1)   Oh no, don’t take my hat! Give me back my hat!

2)   Rats! I don’t have anyone to help me carry this to the car. How will I get this to the car? I can’t carry it myself because I’m not strong enough…

3)   Oh gee, I forget what happens next. I wish someone would help me remember what we do before we leave the house. I keep forgetting!

4)   Gosh, I really don’t want to read stories tonight. But if you get ready for bed quickly, I’ll HAVE to. Oh please don’t MAKE me read! Ut oh, she’s already got her pajamas on.

So here’s your challenge for the week. Identify a consistent power struggle or a time when your child is likely to rebel and plan a couple of possible power games or new strategies that you could employ that would meet everyone’s needs. How can you invite the rebellion?

Then, write to me here in the comments section to let me know how it goes! I would LOVE to hear about your journey.

And have a fantastic week. Warmly, Shelly