Transactional Analysis analyzes social transactions to determine the ego state of the patient (whether parent-like, childlike, or adult-like) as a basis for understanding behavior.

A Child ego state is defined as a state in which people behave, feel, and think similarly to how they did in childhood. For example, a person who receives a poor evaluation at work may respond by looking at the floor and crying or pouting, as when scolded as a child. Conversely, a person who receives a good evaluation may respond with a broad smile and a joyful gesture of thanks.

Within each ego state there are subdivisions, for a Child ego state the associated behavior can either be more natural (Free Child), or behavior can be adapted to the world around us (Adapted Child). The Rebellious Child is a kind of Adapted Child, that adapts their feelings and behaviors to the world around them using rebelling.

A Rebellious Child would be someone that responds to a poor evaluation with rebellion: If people don't appreciate what I do, I might as well not try at all or do things wrong on purpose.

When you ask a Rebellious Child to do something, they may rebel and not do it. I am at a complete loss when another person seems to be in such an ego state and just refuses to cooperate. It can be either that I get the feedback "I do not want", or I get complete silence (and eventually a very expressive face).

When encountering a person using a Rebellious Child ego state, how can I get past the strong barrier of rebellion, and have some constructive communication and hopefully get them to do what needs to be done?

PS: While the question is tagged 'academic research', I'd prefer information / sources targeted to regular people, rather than targeted to experienced psychiatrists and other professionals/academics.

  • 1
    Okay, take a look... I hope it works out for you :)
    – Tinkeringbell
    Feb 19, 2020 at 13:15
  • 1
    That is a totally different way to ask questions on IPS. I was not aware of this, and I was not aware of the "academic-research" tag either. Thanks a lot - it asks the question that I want an answer to.
    – virolino
    Feb 19, 2020 at 13:20
  • Are you asking from the perspective of a boss/parent/teacher/senior/colleague/peer/stranger? I think solutions would be significantly different depending...
    – Jesse
    Feb 20, 2020 at 3:25
  • @Rolexel: the entire IPS can actually be absorbed into psychology.stackexchange.com, since interpersonal communication is studied by the science of psychology.
    – virolino
    Jan 21, 2021 at 17:11

1 Answer 1


Disclaimer: I have only superficial knowledge of Transactional Analysis and can be fairly skeptical about it's pertinence as a model. However since you made a very clear explanation of what could be problematic interaction and desired outcome, I will make an answer using another communication framework that I know better.

The situation as I understand it, is that you ask someone to do something and they refuse for the only purpose of being in contradiction. There are plenty of ways for this to happen and have a lot to do with how you ask.

If the premises is that communication is possible at some point with a person, I would challenge the fact that people use a Rebellious Child ego out of the blue.

An ex-colleague once taught me a few principles of non-violent communication that would suggest the following ways to ask are violent in the sense of NVC, and could lead to violent responses like rebellion:

Clean the kitchen please. (imperative form)

The kitchen have to be cleaned. (Impersonal imperative)

You must/should clean the kitchen. (obligation modal)

Can you be helpful and clean the kitchen? (loaded question)

NVC proposes it's own codified way to ask this question. What I believed as the most important, is to acknowledge from the start the possibility of refusal as a normal part of the negotiation, and present observations and feelings over authority.

If I understand TA well, this would translate into replacing a Parent-Child conversation by an Adult-Adult one.

The kitchen is dirty and I'm feeling really tired today. Can you clean the kitchen, please?

The important difference is that even if the request content is basically the same, a refusal to an imperative request and a refusal to a non-violent open demand have a different meaning.

Imagining here someone told you "no" I wouldn't assume here it would be because of rebellion, because there is no need to rebel anything against, since I only asked for a favor.

There are times where this favor would be very important to you and you would ask for reasons to refuse. Then, you would ask for another favor, that someone explains you why to refuse:

It's the third time you say me no without explanation. Can you explain me why?

If someone previously acting rebellious answers this, it can be a good start point to start listening then disarm the real underlying issue.

If however, someone refuses such a simple demand, then I would consider it is simply not possible to communicate with that person (they are not receptive to my needs) and would stop trying.

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