I know a rebel child intimately. I nursed her from my own breast, I can spy her need-a-pee stance from a mile away, I sleep next to her – I hear her arguing in her dreams: NO, I WILL NOT EAT THAT DINNER!
And, my word, please can I not have a rebel teen?I could handle a blue mohawk but I don’t want to wake up to vomit in my favorite boots and my daughter’s tags all over the street. (Future dreamspeak: I WILL GO OUT AGAIN TONIGHT!! YOU GOT TO FIGHT FOR THE RIGHT TO PARTAAAAY!!!)
But, if I were to eventually end up with a grown up rebel as my offspring I would surely be proud. The world needs more adults willing to buck the status quo, ready to fight for what they believe in.
We all know a grown up rebel. She is the freedom fighter in an oppressive regime. He is the brave father who challenges people’s subtle racism.They are the parents of six who refuse to own a car because they love the earth so much they don’t want to burn fossil fuels. Sometimes they are the colleague who collects novelty paper weights in defiance of the clear-desk policy.
The truth is sometimes the things that are tricky to deal with in a child: a questioning spirit, an unending curiosity, a staunch sense of fairness, assertiveness, fearlessness – these are all things that a few years later, when they reach adulthood, are brilliant attributes.
In a few years time your kid’s refusal to eat their spaghetti bolognese might one day be called a hunger strike and they’ll be amongst esteemed company: Gandhi, Cesar Chavez, the suffragettes.
Here are a few simple ways we can make sure we don’t knock that gumption out of our kids.
1 | Let them choose their own clothes.
Seriously, who cares if they are wearing a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles onesie with a tutu in public? Letting them wear what they want is the first step to body autonomy.
2 | Don’t correct their speech.
Freedom of speech – it's as basic as rights come! Children learn the correct pronunciation simply by it being naturally modeled, not by being corrected. We can make a child self-conscious of their speech, afraid to speak out, if they feel they might get nagged for something.
3 | Don’t force them to say words simply because it's what we're supposed to do.
E.g. thank you, please, sorry. Make sure they understand the basis of saying those words and let them show their gratitude/apology in a way they are comfortable with.
4 | Likewise, throw the, “It's what we DO” phrase out the window.
We need people who will question the state of affairs and not just go along with the Done Thing. If there are certain things you want them to observe – for example, here in New Zealand, according to the indigenous culture, tables hold a sacredness and they mustn’t be climbed on – explain that to your children. (We observe this in our family and need to keep explaining why, daily, because our kids are so rebellious.)
5 | Find lots of places where they enjoy spending time, where they are safe, and can have freedom of movement.
Too often we have to inhibit our child’s physicality, for their own safety or the safety of Aunty Barbara’s china ornaments. Create lots of opportunities for time outside in forests and parks where they can get to know their own strength and inner resource.
6 | Don’t ask them to blithely obey adults.
We don’t want our children to believe that just because someone is older or bigger or stronger they can make them do things they don’t want to do. This is about our child’s safety but also about helping your child trust their own instincts.
7 | Let them question your choices.
It can be tiring when our children want the reason for everything. Consider that they are only young for such a short time, and that this is an opportunity to help them understand why decisions are made, and honor them by explaining your reasoning seriously.
8 | Give them opportunities to make suggestions and take their suggestions as seriously as you do other, older, members of the family.
Quite a lot of parental glee is taken in the phrase, “Don’t negotiate with terrorists, or toddlers!” But why? Negotiation is such a skill! Let them pick it up naturally. Take their ideas seriously, let them understand their voice is powerful!
In a funny twist, families who aim to give their child a lot of autonomy – who create a lot of space for their child’s voice and strength – actually end up with a lot of cooperation. Because the act of letting your kid become who they are, rather than pushing them to fit to society’s expectations, helps them to sit more firmly within your unconditional love. In time as they sense your respect, they begin to give it. I believe celebrating your child’s spiritedness means they're more likely to channel their rebel soul into something positive – and less likely to direct their vomit into your boots!
There’s a whole bunch of other reasons we should embrace our defiant children even when it feels hard. But for now, rest assured that this kid currently stomping butt naked on the dining table is probably going to one day win the Nobel Peace Prize.