Your child hates doing the dishes but was tasked to do the dishes this weekend. At the time of instruction, she acknowledges and nods with no resistance or outward signs of anger.
However, when the time comes to do the dishes, she sits at the dinner table and plays with her food. Everyone is done with dinner, but she dawdles and buys time—drawing out the process of the meal. When you ask her to finish up, she whines and says, “but I’m still eating...”. You end up losing your temper and doing the dishes yourself.
What do you do when your child chooses to express anger in indirect ways such as this, in order to show resistance and effect power over you?
Forms of passive-aggressive behaviour and its underlying cause
Passive-aggressive behaviour can take on a few different forms in children and include:
● feigning forgetfulness or ignorance
● performing tasks at a sub-standard level
● ignoring instructions
● intentionally sabotaging outcomes
● adopting a hostile attitude
● using the silent treatment
Compliant defiance such as this is a way for children to covertly express anger. If children feel as though expressing outward anger, through an outburst or tantrum, could result in negative consequences, they subconsciously suppress their anger. When children feel as though these indirect methods are more satisfying than disruptive ways of letting out how they feel, this makes them more prone to passive-aggressiveness. This type of behaviour can start during the preschool years.
Feeling as though they do not have an outlet to safely express their emotions, children learn to start hiding their anger. As a way to gain control and power over the situation, they learn to defy their parents with acts of resistance such as ignoring instructions or procrastinating.
Managing passive-aggressive behaviour
Passive-aggressive behaviour can be covert and so, can go unnoticed. It could simply be a passing phase of rebellion, or if left unchecked, a permanent behavioural pattern. Such behaviour can be destructive and hurt both child and parent in the long-run. Knowing what it is and recognising its signs is key to addressing it early.
1. Be comfortable with your child’s anger
As parents, we may feel that anger is negative and should not be displayed. But if we choose to effect harsh punishments on children every time they have an outburst, we drive that anger under the surface—fueling passive aggressiveness. Instead, let your child know that anger is natural. Draw it to the surface and bring it out into the open, by giving them space and time to display their emotions without telling them off.
2. Understanding and expressing anger
Sometimes children are not able to put words to how they feel and it’s on us to give them the tools to understand and express themselves. Start early and talk to them whenever they experience intense feelings. Ask questions which allow them to think, reflect and become self-aware: I don’t enjoy seeing you upset, I want to make it right, can you tell me how I might have upset you
Opening up the discussion in a loving, understanding manner would help diffuse the intensity and weaken the built-up anger. Books and movies use clever, creative ways to teach children to deal with emotions. A great example is Pixar’s “Inside Out”.
3. Handling anger in a mature, healthy way
The process of adopting a mature response to anger is a gradual one. Teach them to focus on a person’s action, not to lash out at their character and to aim for resolution. Ensure they remain polite and respectful as they seek to resolve their feelings of frustration. Reaching this stage requires patience and consistent coaching through the years. Sometimes, it might be difficult for parents to implement strategies on their own. MindChamps Allied Care’s parent coaching equips parents with the skills that allow them to confidently and effectively deal with such situations.
Through this, your child will develop high EQ (Emotional Quotient), which they can rely upon to weather through difficult emotional episodes.
4. Model calm behaviour as a parent
A child prone to passive aggressiveness feels like they’ve won when they see you lose your temper. By being calm instead of frazzled, respectful instead of snappy, authoritative instead of authoritarian, you adopt a strong stance and take control of the situation. Avoid a power struggle with your child by being firm yet staying positive and loving. Children are also keen observers and model their behaviour after their parents, and will deal with frustration the same way you do.
5. Build your child’s self esteem and create a positive environment
Disruptive passive-aggressive behaviour in children is caused by distinct parenting practices such as overly harsh punishment or a lack of warmth. In creating a safe environment at home where children feel loved, valued and cared for, you stem the development of unhealthy coping mechanisms at the root. You are now well on your way to raising a well-adjusted child. Learn how to start creating a positive environment at home through MindChamps Allied Care’s parent coaching.
Psychological therapy for your child
Passive aggressiveness in your child may be an indicator of deeper feelings of hurt, frustration or sadness. MindChamps Allied Care provides psychological support and services for children and parents to uncover and understand deep-rooted issues. Our dedicated child psychologists guide the emotional development of your child. With the assistance of trained psychologists, parents can also be coached to know how to behave and react to situations where their child is dealing with their emotions in a counterproductive manner.