Teaching Kids to Challenge Authority

When children don’t get their way, they often react emotionally. Parents must remain firm not only to avoid a dangerous option for the child but also to teach the character quality of contentment, being happy with what I have instead of always wanting more.

What we are about to share with you is an advanced skill. Most children aren’t ready for this step because they turn it into manipulation. The first thing children must learn is to give up their agenda, follow instructions, and cooperate. But there also needs to be a way for children to appeal to parents. When children learn a wise appeal then they can use it to graciously challenge a decision in the home and outside the home. This idea comes from the Bible.

A Biblical Tool

The wise appeal is illustrated in Scripture in the lives of Daniel, Esther, and Nehemiah who all had to go to an authority to present a difficult situation. Daniel went to the administrator and proposed an alternative to the king’s plan. He didn’t just complain about it or become defiant. He looked for a way to bring about change. He was successful, in part, because of the way he made his request. He acknowledged the concern of the official and brought an alternative trial period to test out his plan. The official appreciated Daniel’s request and the result was that God used the trial period to reveal something new to the official. (Daniel 1:8-16)

The wise appeal is a godly alternative to whining, badgering, and arguing, but in order to use it, it’s important for the child to be able to accept a no answer. The wise appeal isn’t just another manipulative tool to get parents to change their minds. Sometimes the answer is still no. See How to Build Co operation in your Kids.

When you take the time to teach and practice a wise appeal in family life, you help your children develop a tool they’ll use for the rest of their lives. After all, people young and old regularly find themselves in positions requiring that they appeal to an authority.

Putting it into Practice

Here’s what the wise appeal might look like and how you might teach it to your children even as preschoolers, but surely as they are in the teen years.

When a child wants to challenge a decision or try to reverse the answer to a request, they might want to use a wise appeal that looks something like this:

I understand you want me to… because…

I have a problem with that because…

So could I please…

The first phrase helps the child identify with the concerns and needs of the parent. When parents feel understood they’re more likely to listen to alternatives, negotiate, or compromise. It’s interesting how a respectful beginning to a wise appeal often melts the resistance of a parent. When a child expresses the parent’s concern in a way that communicates true understanding, parents feel encouraged.

The second phrase helps the parent to understand the child’s predicament and reason for discussion. It also helps children to articulate their issues instead of whining about things.

In the third phrase the child offers a creative solution that addresses both the concerns of Mom or Dad and the concerns of the child.

You may say to your seven-year-old son, “It’s time to clean up the playroom now. We have to go run errands.” If he’s just gotten involved with his train set, he might say, “I understand you want me to clean up because we have to go out; I have a problem with that because I just set up my train track. Could I please clean up everything else but leave the train track out until we get home?”

As soon as you realize that he’s invested time in setting up his train set, you might be willing to change your mind. His idea tells you that he’s ready to go on errands with you and that he wants to play when he gets back. You might find that to be a perfectly acceptable alternative. In fact, many wise appeals reveal solutions that are acceptable to parents because they now have more information. One dad said, “I like the wise appeal because sometimes my daughter shares a solution that’s better than mine. I’d have suggested it in the first place if I’d have thought about it.” The wise appeal often brings more information to the table and creates a good compromise.

Sometimes the Answer is Still No

On the other hand, maybe you know that company is coming over later and you can’t have a train track all over the playroom floor so you must stick to your original plan. A child in this situation needs to be able to accept “no” as an answer. A child who is unable to accept “no” without having a tantrum isn’t ready to use the wise appeal and should lose it as a privilege. See when Kids Can’t Accept a No Answer.

Some children may try to use the wise appeal in a manipulative way or may not be mature enough to handle it. Or, a child may try to use the wise appeal to get out of doing a job altogether. That’s unacceptable. The wise appeal results in a contract between parent and child. This contract requires trust and when a child proves responsible, the child then earns the privilege of more trust. Sometimes, it’s even helpful to write down the conclusion so that there’s no bickering about what was decided.

Children learn that the wise appeal isn’t a magic formula. They don’t always get what they want, but many times it does work to bring about a compromise and change an authority’s mind. It’s just a tool, but a great one in the hands of a person mature enough to use it. See Raising a Leader.

One boy appealed to his coach to allow him to play third base. The coach kept him in the outfield for the rest of that game but did put him at third base in the next game, partly because of the appeal but also partly because the boy had a good attitude when he didn’t get what he wanted right away. He’d learned the wise appeal at home and had practiced it for years.

An Adult Skill

The wise appeal teaches children that they don’t have to be victims in life. Instead they can be instruments for change. Many people don’t like the position they’re in and resort to complaining. Others look for solutions in life. The wise appeal is one tool that can help kids realize that they have recourse when things don’t go their way.

Honor changes the way children operate. This book shows you how to teach it.

If you want your child to be a world-changer or a problem solver, the home is an excellent place to learn the skills and practice them. An appeal teaches children how to compromise, think of the needs of others, communicate, and negotiate. Unfortunately, many children don’t learn those skills and view themselves as victims under the control of others. The wise appeal empowers kids to take charge of their own unhappiness and do something about it.

By teaching the wise appeal, you teach children an adult skill they can use forever. This tip is taken from the book, Say Goodbye to Whining, Complaining, and Bad Attitudes in You and Your Kids. It’s a special book that takes the biblical concept of honor and applies it in all kinds of situations including anger management, sibling conflict, and the self-focused tendencies of the early teen years.


  • Mike Adekunle
    Posted at 02:49h, 19 August Reply

    Am really blessed by this piece. Many thanks.

  • Ruth Nchekei
    Posted at 10:09h, 19 August Reply

    Thank you for this. I say a lot of times that children should be allowed to question authority, of course, respectfully.

  • scott turansky
    Posted at 10:21h, 21 August Reply

    Mike and Ruth, thanks for your comments. I’m glad you found this helpful.

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