Rebellious kids

What does having a rebellious child mean for you? If you have a teenager you will have an idea, they can be surly, grumpy and un-responsive. What is it all about? Why do kids need to go through that stage and why are some worse than others?

In essence, what the rebellious kid is doing is developing and desperately trying to hang on to their sense of identity. As any child develops, one of the main tasks of life is trying to figure out who he or she is. We call it a 'sense of self'. If the kid sees people, parents particularly, as getting in the way of that, they have a choice - he or she can conform and do what the big people want, or they can rebel.

When a child is very small, and there are some very rebellious toddlers... he or she usually learns to conform. That is, do what the 'big people' want them to do. Why do they do that? Generally, because what happens after the compliant behaviour is something that they like. A smile, a stroke, something that tells them that the behaviour was approved of. They then attach that to their sense of who they are - they conclude that who they are is approved of.

So what happens with a rebellious kid? This is a slightly more sophisticated process. The rebellious child sees conforming as losing something rather than gaining something. They are losing a sense of their autonomy and power. I remember the first time my two year old daughter said to her older brother, "No! Me do it!".

That sense of power and autonomy is what gives a child confidence in their own abilities. If they are allowed and encouraged to take their power they don't have to fight for it by being rebellious.

Traditionally, the sense is that conforming is good and rebellion is bad. This can also influence how children can think of themselves, the thinking may go like this:

‘If I am compliant, I am thought of as good and people will like me. If I am rebellious, I am bad and I will be thought of as trouble and not approved of, so that must make me a bad person.’

This can be very confusing for a child that is trying to develop ideas of who they are.

‘If I want to be me, think like I think, feel what I feel and do what I want, the big people will not like me and think I am bad. If I am who they want me to be by ignoring what I really want, what I really think and what I really feel, then I will be approved of and they will like me.' How does a child deal with that?

To some kids, it is obvious that overt rebellion would not be a good idea as they are fully aware it brings very negative consequences: punishment, withdrawal and disapproval. These children learn that to hang on to their ‘sense of self’ they have to rebel but in a very passive way.

Have you had the experience where you ask a child to do something and they appear compliant by agreeing to do as you ask, but then never actually getting around to doing it? These kids may be the ‘passive aggressives’ of the future, in training!

Maybe you are aware of the ‘conforming’ or ‘rebelling’ kid in you and wondered about it. A rebellious child can often get into a lot of trouble, even though they are aware the options for doing it differently. Maybe you get angry with yourself for being so compliant with everyone when you don't really want to. Or maybe you are aware of the passive aggressive streak in you that doesn’t really get you what you want, or the internal conflict between being compliant or rebellious.

If you are interested in learning more about compliant and rebellious traits either in your children or internally within your own make up, contact a qualified counselling professional to learn more about Transactional Analysis.

Counselling Directory is not responsible for the articles published by members. The views expressed are those of the member who wrote the article.

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Llandeilo, Dyfed, SA19 6AE
Written by Jules Marshall, MSc TA Psych. MA MBA BSc Hons Psych. CTA. PTSTA. Dip Gp Work
Llandeilo, Dyfed, SA19 6AE

Jules Marshall. MSc. TA Psych. BSc Psych. PTSTA, CTA. is a UKCP registered Psychotherapist, Trainer and Supervisor. At the 3DTA Training Institute in Llandeilo. Carmarthenshire.
If you are interested in learning more Contact Jules on 01558 685 066 or visit the website on or email:

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