How do I deal with a rebellious attitude in a nine-year-old?


When asking my nine-year-old daughter to do various chores she always obeys, but sometimes with a "humph," a little puff of air which blows her hair up, sometimes with eye-rolling, and on rare occasions with stomping. I wonder if this is rebellion biblically? How do I get happy obedience? I find myself putting up with it far too long.


It would be a rare child who never expressed annoyance at being asked to do something he would rather not do. For that matter, the same goes for grown-ups; just look at all the examples the children of Israel left for us in the Old Testament. Since you state that these expressions of annoyance are only occasional, it is best to mostly ignore them and occasionally remind her that such expressions are not polite. More dramatic expressions, such as the foot-stomping, should be calmly rebuked: "Such outbursts are not acceptable young lady," or "Does that mean you rather do the dishes for the next week instead of just tonight?" Assuming that this has been going on a while, it will probably take numerous reminders to break her of the bad habit. "Open rebuke is better than love carefully concealed" (Proverbs 27:5).

The calm response is essential because your daughter's expression is not calm. If you respond to it with exasperation, the problem will escalate. If you are calm, then your daughter will shortly decide that her antics are not getting to you, which takes some of the "fun" out of doing them. "Make no friendship with an angry man, and with a furious man do not go, lest you learn his ways and set a snare for your soul" (Proverbs 22:24-25).

In essence, you are expressing your disapproval and placing the ball back in your daughter's court. She now has the option of backing down or escalating. Any attempt at escalation should be met with an appropriate punishment. For example, if the displeasure is over a chore, the time for the chore should be increased. "Rebuke is more effective for a wise man than a hundred blows on a fool" (Proverbs 17:10). If your daughter is smart, she will quickly back down and be less likely to repeat the escalation. If she, by her actions, chooses escalation, then she should realize that there is a calm wall of non-tolerance that she will meet each and every time.

Quietly blocking mild expressions of annoyance now will benefit you in the long run. The troublesome years of puberty will soon be upon you. What is now a mild grumble will quickly be replaced by loud protests. If your daughter can learn to control her moods now with your help, then when the stronger emotional swings hit, she will at least know how to partially reign herself in.

You can also anticipate problems and prepare your daughter in advance. Don't wait until bedtime to say "off to bed." Mention to her fifteen minutes beforehand, "you have fifteen minutes." This gives her a chance to wind things down (most children don't track time well). Then, when the fifteen minutes are up you can go back and say "time's up." You will find there will be less obstinance because she knew what to expect in advance.

So long as a child thinks your requests are a burden, she will never truly be happy in obeying. Part of her training is instruction in why a particular chore is beneficial to her. It takes most people a long time to appreciate the benefits of work, but you can encourage it. Find things to praise your daughter when she moves in the right direction. Too often, parents hold off praise until a task is done perfectly. When this happens, the child receives too little positive feedback. So when you see your daughter putting away her shoes without being asked, say "Thank you. I'm glad you are thinking ahead. Those shoes are going to be easier to find when you need them" even if there are several other things lying around. When she volunteers to wash dishes, say "Why aren't you sweet!" even if she doesn't get the plates perfectly clean or leaves the pots undone. So long as she is heading in the right direction, give her encouragement and drop pleasant comments as to how she made her life (not yours) easier.


Thank you very much for your response.

I can safely say I'm daily using calm rebuke and reminders. Up until a year ago, she was characterized by obeying quietly and sweetly, with a "yes mom". It started with a little "dirty looks" and now it's getting worse by the day. Adding chores for stomping just worsens her attitude, however rarely to a point of protesting or actual rebellion.


Since your daughter isn't openly rebelling, then I would suggest continuing your present course. Consistency will eventually win out. Your daughter is approaching the teenage years when she will desire to be independent. In a way, she is trying it out, finding out what does and does not work. By consistently giving disapproval to "dirty looks" and seeing that it doesn't buy her anything, she will eventually drop it. You will just need to show that as a parent you can outlast a preteen any day.

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