Have you ever asked, told or suggested your child do (or not do) something and watched as your child seemed to be determined to do the exact opposite? Were you surprised, because you knew your child had agreed what he or she was now trying to do wasn’t in his or her best interest? Call it push back, stubbornness, resistance or rebellion – it is actually a natural human tendency that is encouraged by Satan.
It is the same dynamic that was in the Garden of Eden. Adam and Eve only had one “don’t” command (as far as we know). Do not eat the fruit of that one tree. It didn’t take much effort on the part of Satan to convince them eating the fruit of that tree was the one thing they just had to do – even though they knew terrible things would happen when they did.
So how can you convince your children to obey you and God when Satan knows just what to say to get them to push back at rules, commands and godly advice? For many young people the key is framing the commands, rules and advice as God does (but man has somehow often missed as we teach others those commands).
The most important factor in parenting push back from children is the parenting style. Authoritarian parenting sets the ground for push back and rebellion. It consists of strict rules, harsh enforcement and a general lack of a loving relationship. Authoritarian parents often tend to portray God as authoritarian also, which is why many children of authoritarian parents also tend to reject God as adults.
Permissive parents rarely have rules and are unlikely to enforce the ones they have or give any consequences when rules are broken. This style leads children to believe they make the rules and can disobey rules created by anyone else if they don’t like them. Permissive parents tend to portray God as permissive which is why these children either grow up to reject God as unnecessary or to rewrite the Bible’s commands to their liking.
The authoritative parenting style is the least likely to encourage rebellion or even strong push back. While rules may still be strict, they are enforced consistently with firm, but loving consequences when broken. The relationship between parent and child is loving and the parent is attentive and nurturing. It is the style of parenting used by God as He parents us. The rules and advice in authoritative parenting are always in the best interest of the child. They aren’t based on the whim of the parent or in an attempt to micromanage the life choices of the child. The authoritative parent tends to portray God as authoritative and their children are the most likely to become strong, productive Christians as adults.
There is another factor in reducing push back, however. If you pay close attention, God never forces us to obey Him. He makes it clear we have free choice. The choice to obey or disobey is always ours. In the book The Catalyst, author Jonah Berger calls the tendency to push back, reactance. One of his suggestions is to give people the information they need to support the rule or advice, while also reminding them of their freedom to choose.
In Christian parenting, this often looks like having more in depth discussions about God’s commands. Why does God say it is a sin to get drunk? What are the negative things that can happen when one is drunk? When does one cross the line from drinking to drunk (and how close does one really want to get to that line – when God’s definition may differ from the legal one)? Couple these conversations with a reminder that while whether or not to drink alcohol at all will ultimately be a decision they make at age 21, for now it is against the law and not an option, and you can minimize push back.
For younger children, it can help to give them options that are all acceptable to you. When the child resists and suggests an unsuitable option, reminding him or her while that option isn’t available, there are still multiple options on the table, can reduce push back. For younger children, try to provide only two or three options on your list. If you offer too many choices, the child can become overwhelmed and revert back to the simple unacceptable choice.
Finally, with older children, try to understand their reasons for pushing back. You don’t have to agree with their thinking, but understanding what it is can often help you find a way to remove the obstacle to compliance. You may find it isn’t actually about your rule or advice, but rather the timing or presentation of it. Or it may be a misunderstanding one of you has about part of the conversation or terms used by you. Getting to the root of the problem can make it a lot easier for both of you to find common ground.
The answer to push back is never to give up setting appropriate boundaries or giving godly advice. Rather it is finding ways to communicate so that your child has no desire to push back at what is in his or her best interest.