The More Limits I Set, the More My Child Rebels

Setting limits for children and enforcing them is one of the most significant challenges we parents face. But what if your child rebels?
The More Limits I Set, the More My Child Rebels

Last update: 18 December, 2022

Setting limits for children is an art form. Or at least it should be considered as such. It’s a challenge as complex as it is necessary, and is evidence of one more demonstration of love, despite the fact that children often perceive it as absolute torture. No one likes to be told no when they want to do something. If your child rebels every time you try to set limits, you’ll find this article more than interesting. Keep reading!

Sometimes children react rebelliously to the setting of limits. They push the limits almost to the point of breaking them. They constantly test us, which generates a deep sense of helplessness in us. Then, we feel that we’re losing control of our children’s upbringing and we think that we need to increase our strictness to guarantee obedience. But is this the right way to go? What other alternatives are there?

The importance of setting limits in parenting

A limit is a dividing line, a message that says how far we can go. We need symbolic boundaries to live together in society and to respect each other and ourselves. In this regard, children will be adults one day and will need to be able to adapt to a series of codes and social rules in order to live in harmony with others. In addition, they’ll be able to set limits for others, which will bring them great benefits in the development of their self-esteem and emotional bonds.

To teach children about limits is to give them tools. These will be their best allies for their personal or professional future. In parenting, limits represent a sign of how far their behavior can go. There are attitudes that are allowed and others that are not. Those that are not, generally, are those that parents see as dangerous or harmful for them.

The value of limits in parenting is undeniable. However, setting them properly and enforcing them is a difficult challenge. When we try to set limits, we often end up having the opposite effect: The more limits we set, the more our child rebels. So, let’s look at how to resolve this issue.

A young girl looking annoyed as her mother sets a limit.
This tinge of rebelliousness in children usually corresponds to a specific stage and is experienced over a limited period of time. At some point, disobedience, in its proper measure, reflects a healthy attitude.

Why do children rebel when limits are set?

Rebelliousness in children and, above all, in adolescents, is to be expected because, through it, they try to differentiate themselves from the rest and build their own identity. Children rebel in order to know more about their existence and individuality. In addition, they seek to make decisions for themselves and conquer their independence.

In this regard, it’s essential to understand that children communicate through their behavior, so we should sharpen our senses and listen to the messages they emit with their actions. In addition, little ones violate our verbally expressed codes in order to learn how far they can go and understand the consequences of going beyond what’s allowed.

Many times, they disobey us to test us and observe our reaction when they receive the rules. Therefore, they notice our loss of control and they seem to like it. This is when everything becomes a power struggle that’s more uncomfortable for adults.

How to act when your child rebels?

It’s never a good alternative to enter into a power struggle with your children. They’re not our rivals or our peers, so they don’t need us to behave their way either. Therefore, although they may provocatively encourage us to get involved in their game, it’s important that we don’t allow ourselves to be persuaded. Ultimately, they’re looking for the opposite: For us to assume our role as parents, and that includes setting limits.

A father setting limits with his daughter.
If your child rebels when you try to set limits on their behavior, it’s likely that the problem isn’t the rules, but the way in which you tend to set them.

Recommendations when setting limits

The truth is that each child is different. Therefore, their needs will be unique. At the same time, every parent is different, so expecting everyone to raise their children identically is an idea that escapes common sense. However, in general terms, we can mention some recommendations that usually result in positive consequences when setting limits.

  • Learning to regulate one’s emotions: Getting carried away by the intensity of anger or helplessness won’t help us. It’s essential to learn to manage our emotions and avoid losing our temper.
  • Be consistent: If we want our children to be able to respect limits, we must be consistent ourselves. Avoid making and breaking the rules that we ourselves propose. This would send confusing messages.
  • Explain the reason for the rule: It’s important that children understand the meaning of our limit.
  • Propose other alternatives: An excellent strategy for setting a limit is to offer other possibilities. For example, say the following: “It’s time to turn off the tablet. Do you want to play with puzzles, with your toy cars, or would you prefer that we play dress up?”
  • Express ourselves through affirmations: Instead of enunciating negative phrases such as “Don’t jump on the bed anymore”, try giving affirmations and accentuating the positive: “Come, jump here, on the floor”.

Set limits with firmness, not by yelling

Undoubtedly, setting limits for children when they rebel and modifying their attitude isn’t easy. However, it’s essential that children don’t see us as people who are easy to manipulate. In this case, they’ll discover that with a simple cry or a tantrum, they’ll get what they want.

Setting limits firmly doesn’t mean shouting or resorting to violence. It’s simply a matter of expressing ourselves with confidence and avoiding hesitant or inconclusive messages.

All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.

  • Álvarez Icaza, M,A., Murow Troice, E. (2001) Cómo poner límites a tus niños sin dañarlos. Respuestas a los problemas de disciplina más frecuentes practicando una educación positiva. Editorial Pax México. 
  • Novakovich, P., Verdugo, L. (2009). Adolescencia. Rebeldía adolescente, ¿mito o realidad?

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.