One of the most valuable phrases I’ve learned when working with families is:
Rules – Relationship = Rebellion
This concept was originally created to help step-parents and blended families understand the oh-so common rebellion that can happen when a step-parent steps into a child’s life and tries to enforce rules, while failing to foster the relationship (outside of setting and enforcing rules) with that child first. The common result? Rebellion. Kids innately value the relationship bond that happens at birth (and I’ll likely cover why this is in future blogs). For most step-parents, it’s tricky because they don’t get that opportunity to chemically and emotionally bond in those very crucial developmental stages so creating that bond with step-children can be an even bigger endeavor. Add in the complications of co-parenting, residual trauma from divorce, and a kid being in multiple environments with multiple rules and walaaa! It can be a super frustrating mix of chaos for both the kid and the step-parent.
Needless to say, this formula also applies to Authoritarian parenting relationships. That is, when parents create rules without offering explanations, listening & empathizing with their child’s emotions –even the irritating ones, and expect them to follow it in a militant kind-of-way. Most parents do this with the great intentions of making wonderful kids for our society, however, it commonly can go bad because these kids often struggle in the world when complicated emotions arise and things aren’t so “black and white”.
How can we change this? Build relationship with your kid. Listen to their emotions and utilize emotion coaching when you can (that is, “saying yes to the emotion, and no to the problematic behavior, see Dan Siegel’s works on parenting). More tangibly, make time every week to spend with your kids getting to know them, playing games with them, and taking a break from the enforcer role. Let your kids get to know you and remind them after hard conversations that at the end of the day you are on their side.
Try working on the relationship piece if you are struggling with kid rebellion and see what happens. This equation isn’t perfect (nor my own), but in my experience — it’s pretty darn close.