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Passive-Aggressive Child Behavior: Hidden Anger in Kids

by James Lehman, MSW
Passive-Aggressive Child Behavior: Hidden Anger in Kids

Does your child take forever to get up, eat breakfast and do his homework and chores? You nag, threaten and repeat yourself, but he still doesn’t seem to pay attention to anything you say. Here, James Lehman explains the passive-aggressive ways kids control you—and how they use it to avoid responsibility.

It's important to understand that while some kids with behavior disorders get angry and act out, these kids get angry and act in.

Passive resistance is when kids learn to develop power over you by resisting you. In fact, it's the opposite of aggression: instead of threatening or yelling at you, a passive-aggressive child simply doesn’t answer you. He just walks into the house, goes upstairs and doesn't say anything. When you call up to his room, he pretends not to hear you; instead, he makes you come upstairs. Understand that this is one way for a child to have power, and many become experts at this kind of passive-aggressive behavior.

Related: Does your child "act in" instead of act out?

These are kids who generally don't know how to communicate well or solve the problems associated with anger or anxiety. It’s important to understand that while some kids with behavior disorders get angry and act out, these kids get angry and act in. Understand that I’m not talking about passive personalities—I'm talking about passive resistant behavior. These are kids who use resistance as a way to get back at you, and to gain control or power. They’re the kids who say, “I don't want to do what Mom wants me to do, but I won't confront her. I'll just drag my feet until she leaves me alone.” Or he’ll blow you off until he frustrates you—and in his mind, if he annoys you and you start yelling, he wins. After all, you lost control, and he didn't. Now he feels like he's in control: you’re frustrated and you're yelling, “Why aren't you doing your homework? I told you three times!” And he's sitting there on the sofa, satisfied with the knowledge that he got to you. Sometimes he tells you to stop yelling and leaves you feeling frustrated and foolish.

How Does Passive-Aggressive Behavior Develop in Kids?
Passive-aggressive behavior in kids is a big problem in a lot of parents’ lives. For one reason or another, their child develops a way of avoiding feelings or confronting anger. They don’t learn how to talk about conflicts, frustrations, hostility and the things they think are unfair. Sadly, this pattern will often continue to develop in a person’s life through adulthood—and make no mistake, it causes serious problems for them. Think of how destructive passive-aggressive behavior is in adult relationships. When adults can't be assertive and communicate their needs, they often rely on passive resistance—little ways of getting back at their spouse which eventually cause a lot of resentment and anger to build. Instead of building bridges, passive-aggressive behavior tears down communication quietly, closing window after window.

Related: How kids can use inappropriate behavior to manipulate you.

When people are passive-aggressive, realize that they often don't really know it until it's identified. They'll tell you that things don't bother them and they don't care, but then you'll see them fighting their partner or resisting things for no apparent reason. And kids will be the same way. They'll tell you they don't care and that it doesn't matter, but then you’ll see them resisting you over something that's meaningless. They do it by being real slow to get their homework started, not answering when you talk to them, and ignoring your requests to do their chores.

How Do Kids Control you with Passive Resistance?
By resisting you, your child is often training you to give up and leave him alone. He’s training you to believe he can't do it. He’s making you lower your expectations so you'll expect less from him. And the truth is, passive resistance often works for kids.

I think parents really need to be on top of this kind of behavior. There's a concept in the mental health field called “learned helplessness” which is very important for parents to understand. This is where kids learn that if they act helpless, eventually someone else will do the job for them. They learn that if they resist long enough, you'll do the dishes yourself. If they don't answer you when you call them, you'll eventually walk upstairs or take the garbage out. Or if they shut down when you ask them to mow the lawn, you'll still give them $15 when they need it. Bit by bit, your expectations are lowered until you don’t have expectations anymore. But realize that once you do this, you're only setting your child up for failure. Really, childhood and adolescence is the time in your child’s life when he needs to grow and learn. If you let them off the hook with few responsibilities, they simply won’t gain the skills they need to move on to adulthood. Even though they may feel like they’re getting away with something, they’re actually falling into a trap that will be very hard for them to climb out of later.

Related: Doing too much for your child? How it will hurt them in the long run.

Why It’s Healthy to Get Angry in Front of Your Kids
I think from the time your kids are young, you need to encourage them to voice anger or hostility appropriately. You can say, “Just like parents get angry sometimes, it’s okay for kids to get angry, too.” In fact, I think it’s healthy to let your child see you angry—and then see you get over it and resolve the conflict. It’s better for kids to learn by what they see and hear, rather than to simply listen to speeches about how they should behave. Remember, the idea is not to never get angry as a parent—the idea is to be a good role model for your child by handling your anger appropriately. So when you get angry, handle it like an adult. In my opinion, if you can't handle your anger and simply hold it in all the time—or on the other hand, if you're explosive—your child may not learn how to handle anger effectively, either.

I know it’s popular these days for people to say that you should never get angry in front of your child. In my opinion, children who grow up in homes where parents handle anger effectively will learn to handle it, too. Think of it this way: if you hide your anger as an adult, how is your child going to learn to handle his anger and frustration?

Should I Talk to My Child When He Drags His Feet?
I believe it’s a good idea to sit down and talk with your child when there’s a behavior issue you want to address with him. It’s important to find out if his anger or anxiety is getting in the way, if he understands the assignment he’s procrastinating on, or if he’s having problems at school.

Certainly we want to rule out things like depression, thyroid problems, or other factors that might be contributing to this behavior. If you think there are physiological causes for your child’s behavior, have him assessed by a trained medical professional as soon as possible.

Understand that most kids will drag their feet if they don’t understand their homework or if it looks too big for them. That may be passive resistance, but it's passive resistance because they’re afraid of something or they’re frustrated. I believe that the parenting roles of “Teacher” and “Coach” are vital in this situation, because you want to help your child learn why this is happening, and then coach him to be more organized.

Related: How to play the three most important roles for a child: Coach, Teacher and Limit Setter.

Tips for Helping Your Child When He’s Avoiding Something:

Compartmentalize the Assignment: When your child thinks an assignment or task is too big, you can help him as a parent by teaching him how to compartmentalize tasks. You can say, “Let's get this much done tonight.” Or “Let's get this much of the project done this week.” A good way to handle this is to ask your child, “How much do you think you can get done tonight? How much do you think you can get done this week?” That way, you're teaching him how to plan. If he comes back with something that's too little, you need to say, “No, I don't think that's enough. I think you're selling yourself short. Why don’t you try to do this much instead?” If he gives you an amount that sounds too big, just say, “That sounds like an awful lot to me. It may not be realistic, Thomas. Let’s see how much you get done in an hour and then reevaluate it.” So you help him learn how to moderate himself and get organized.

Use Hurdle Help: In the Total Transformation, there’s something I call “Hurdle Help.” This is where you get your child started on something that he’s having a hard time with on his own. So for example, if it’s an English assignment, ask him some questions about what he’s writing about. You might give him a sentence to begin the project. I’m not suggesting you do the assignment for him—rather, you get him over the first hurdle and let him take it from there. All kids need a little boost to get started.

Keep Distractions to a Minimum: Keep the bedroom door open and the music off when your child is doing schoolwork. Check in on him intermittently to make sure he’s actually doing the work. Reduce distractions. If you can't check in on him enough, have him do his work downstairs. The idea is that your child should understand that he has to perform whether he’s angry or not. I don't care if his anger is carried out in a resistant way or in an aggressive way—he's still responsible for it.

When Kids Use Passive Resistance to be Non-compliant
When kids use passive-aggressive behavior in order to get away with not following through on their responsibilities, I believe you need to be very firm with them. There are definitely things you can do to improve this kind of behavior, but whatever you do, keep your “good enough” parenting skills in place. You want to have an open mind and be objective. When you’re angry and frustrated by your child’s behavior, remind yourself that he's only your child being annoying—even if he seems like a monster at that moment.

Related: How to give consequences that really work for your child.

Remember, passive-aggressive behavior is an ineffective coping skill. In order for a child to stop using it, they have to learn an effective coping skill with which to replace it. Coping skills will not be abandoned because they’re ineffective unless a more healthy coping skill is learned to replace it.

Tell Your Child the Consequences of Inaction—and Set Time Limits
Sit down and talk with your child when things are going well. Tell him straight out what you see happening: that he’s not producing enough, striving enough or pushing himself enough. Then tell him what the consequences will be from now on. Inform him that you're going to set time limits on what has to be done, and if he doesn't meet that time limit, then he’s going to lose his phone or computer until it's done.

Certainly it's up to parents to be reasonable about the timeframe. You can even say, “I want the basement cleaned by Monday. And if not, you're losing your phone till it's done.” So you don’t have to give your child tight time frames. I think it’s better to give him choices. But regardless, he needs to be held accountable if he doesn’t get it done within a certain time.

Build in Rewards: You also want to build in rewards for your child for getting things done early. Train your child that there’s a reward for putting in effort and getting the task done early and pushing himself. So just like there's a reward for kids when they don’t act out, there’s a reward for your child when he doesn’t act in. Meeting his timelines would be one of the goals. For example, if he has all his homework done the night before, finishes breakfast without dawdling, gets ready for school and gets to the bus on time in the morning, he gets a reward. You might let him stay up a half an hour later. In this way, you're training and motivating him to do things on time.

Related: EP Downloadable behavior charts to use with your child.

Invite Your Passive-Aggressive Child to Talk about His Anger: If you think your child is being passive-aggressive because he gets angry and can’t voice his feelings, invite him to talk about those things. Just say, “If you're angry about something, it's safe to talk to me.” And I think “safe” is an important word here. Say, “It’s okay if you feel angry or afraid, but continuing this behavior won’t solve the problem. Talk to me. I'll try to hear you. But I expect you to do the work whether you're angry or not. Being angry is no excuse.” Parents can also train kids by directly stating what you see happening: “I think you're not loading the dishwasher because you're angry that I wouldn't let you stay out last night late. And I want you to know that I understand that—but it's not a justification. You still have to do the dishes. And if they’re not done by eight o’clock, I'm taking the keyboard out of your room.”

Remember, expectations have to remain clear. Whatever happens, your child has to learn how to perform, how to produce, and how to survive in life—that’s all there is to it. Too much excuse-making has come into our culture, and too many people have been allowed to get away with not keeping up with their responsibilities. You see people at 35 who have had mediocre jobs that they don’t like all their life and they can't get ahead. They have no skills because no one ever made them follow through and do the work. I think that very clearly, the message has to be, “You have to learn to take care of yourself and meet your responsibilities. You're accountable.”

Do we want to be understanding? Yes. Do parents need extra training for kids like this? Often they do. But nonetheless, the responsibility is ultimately on the child to grow up and learn how to live in our society—and on the parents to teach him how to do it.

 


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James Lehman, MSW was a renowned child behavioral therapist who worked with struggling teens and children for three decades. He created the Total Transformation Program to help people parent more effectively. James' foremost goal was to help kids and to "empower parents."

READER'S COMMENTS

Well i am a single mother to 3 children. 11 (son) and two girls 9 and 5. my son is a smart mouth and acts like he never has to listen to me he will use me gettin angry to justify what he does...he just blames me for everything and he expects me to do everything...my 9 year old daughter just absolutely takes me out. she verbally and physically abuses me...when i read this article and alot of the rest of them i really thought u was writing a story about her...i was surprised to c i am not the only one going through this..cuz when this goes on u feel all alone..i have tried everything..cousiling, doctors, church, friends, family, disciplin...everything and im at a stand still..i love all my kids with all my heart and soul but to go through this makes u feel like a worthless dog..i work M-T i am home every nite and all weekend so i can spend time with them...but it seems to me they want nothin to do with me..i have reached out so much that im fed up!!! now i am searchin on the web to hopefully find soome help..

Comment By : lookin for help

Ah, just what I needed to hear today. How does one effectively teach children to manage their anger and passive aggressiveness when the father is the same way? It's hard to take a phone away from the father but I certainly can do that with a child

Comment By : Mom In Charge

Would it be a good idea to show my 17 year old son this article? It's him all over.

Comment By : loving my child

Hey lookin for help - I empathize! And I don't have 3 kids...just one! I have had a lot of outside "help" with parenting, but the reality of it all is that none of it makes one bit of difference to my daughter until she sees that I follow through on what I say, every time. "Consequences" are a kid's currency.....I wish this weren't true, and that my kid did what I asked of her just out of love for me, but it just doesn't seem to work that way. Honestly, I kind of suck at consequences and follow through! I have guilt buttons that are easily pushed, trying to overcompensate for what she does/does not have in her life...but I do ultimately believe that at the end of the day, life is what you make it, I just need to keep developing my own parenting skills so that my daughter understands that. And, you know, you gotta give yourself a break, too - sometimes you just have to choose your battles and hope for improvement over the long run...it takes a lot of energy from the parent to do all the consequences stuff, etc.

Comment By : CastaDiva

This is excellent information for all parents. I am a parent coach who helps to build emotional intelligence (EI) skills in both parents and kids. Often times, parents just acknowlege positive emotions in kids and ignore or reprimand the negative emotions. It is vital to acknowledge the negative ones and help children cultivate a plan of action in dealing with them. This is EI in action and research proves that the more EI a kid has, the more successful and happier he or she will be.

Comment By : on the ball parent coach

I think the hardest part with a passive-aggressive child (like my 11 year old) is when they push the passiveness past the non-compliant stage. My daughter won't care about the consequences either. If I take her MP3 player (she doesn't have a cell or video games)or allowance, etc, she simply doesn't care. If I reward her, she still doesn't care. She won't be bribed or accept consequences and she has learned to control me using this method. If I ask her to do a chore, she will just go to her room and sit instead of doing what I ask. When I tell her the consequence, she shruggs. She will sit in her room all evening and go straight to bed with no problem, or will finally explode, which still gets nothing accomplished. Then what can I do as a parent?

Comment By : Collegemom7898

This is a great article, but I am in the same boat as Collegmom7898. What do you do when rewards and consequences don't work? How do you finally get through to encourage personal responsibility and actually have it take hold?

Comment By : DadWithSon

I keep thinking that because I let my 13 yr old daughter do so much (that she wants to do) that she will be appreciative and be responsible and do what she should - chores and homework - etc.. but you know I just get "slapped in the face" over and over... I keep repeating the pattern letting her do things, go places, etc. and yet she continues to NOT keep up her end of anything.. No help around the house, doesnt do her schoolwork when she should or sometimes not at all.. What am I doing?? How do I make myself change so that I can help her grow up and learn to be responsible/accountable/ Why do I keep thinking she is going to just miraculously start doing the right thing?? Yes, she is an only child - and I am 48 and her dad is 50.. LOL.. we started to late! She screams about being treated like a 5-yr old -- I try to tell her to "show me you can do what you should - what you are capable of" -- Of course she says I will, I will... and here we go again... The fact that no matter how much she gets to do - her attitude never changes - Is all a 13 yr old capable of thinking about is the next thing they want a "yes" answer to?? I guess so.

Comment By : What am I doing???

To CastaDiva - I am so there with you! and Loving My child -- my question to - should we show our kids this article? it sounds like my daughter all over too!!

Comment By : What am I doing???

We have two boys 9 & 13 that have this learned this behavior with the biological family. Needless to say, they have tried to carry the behavior over to our home. A child who comes from chaos will do everything in there power to change their environment to what they know as normal...Both have been unsuccessful in our home. Our problem is not that we don't follow through with our threats, it's that we have yet to find a currency that works. They have both had a loss of privledges such as T.V., screen time (both computer and gaming) and have been sent to bed early...at times they just don't seem to care. Our oldest son has ADHD and has a hard time focusing on the out comes of his negative behaviors. If it's not "in the now" he could care less. We are having a hard time trying to keep our house on a positive tone. We would like to have positive reinforcement as a general rule but they are always testing there boundaries knowing full well it will not work in their favor. Troubling indeed.

Comment By : My2dads

My sons are 19 and 18 ... my 19 yr old is exactly like this article. How do i help him change? Nothing matters to him either. I get comments from both of them telling me that they are over 18 and can do what they want whenever they want. Is it too late for them and me?

Comment By : alliwish4

Greetings: This sounds so familiar. This year in the band I teach I have some of these kids. It involves their practicing their instruments. These are kids that are bright but they drag their feet on things such as fundraisers or practice sheets being turned in, which in terms of the practice sheets has a HUGE impact on their grade. In terms of compartmentalizing, most of us teach that you "bracket" your music. This means putting brackets around the stuff that really drives you nuts and work on that until you get it, so you can play the entire piece. I remember it well.....years ago our son wasn't getting his homework done. After all the excuses, etc. we made it a rule that the TV would stay off until he was done. He figured out that if he wanted to watch the shows he liked he needed to get his work done BEFORE dad got home from teaching band at about 6:00 p.m.

Comment By : Donald

I first want to say thank you, I have had a hard time dealing with my teenager daughter, not knowing what the problem is, I apreciate something you gave me to think about

Comment By : John

I hope I can offer some encouragement to those of you who feel like giving up. My son will be 11 in June has ADD. His father and I divorced when he was 3. I am 48 and his dad is 55. His dad is more of his buddy than his parent, and he is VERY soft on the discipline. Furthermore, his dad is diagnosed passive-aggressive so my son has been dealing with things much like his dad does. Don't give up. My son and I are seeing a counselor who has helped us immensely in the past few months. I am seeing some very positive changes. We have worked as much, if not more, on me than on my son. She has taught me that the number one rule is to not lose control. Say what you need to say and walk away. Secondly, lay down the consequence and stick to it. I was HORRIBLE at this for a long time, but I'm getting better! It really does work, but it takes time and perserverance, and most importantly support. Find you someone who can be YOUR support, that you can talk to and get encouragement from, and be willing to listen to them for suggestions and constructive criticism. You can do it. Believe in yourself and your children and hang in there. They are worth it.

Comment By : sams_mom

I love this article! I am dealing with this in my 14 year old step-daughter. She came to live with us about 19 mos ago from a very bad environment. MY first instict was to show her this article as well. I am not so sure now that I have read further. She is extremely manipulative and loves to play this game with me! I am fed up and sick of the whole situation. I have not given up but become increasingly more strict. We have had her in counseling for almost the entire time that we have had her and she manipulates even more so there. When I tell the counselor that I feel like she just ups the ante every time I enforce the rules or take something away. She tells me that this will not work for her. I have needed to hear what she should be rewarded on and not that I am doing this wrong. She does not respond to the typical way I use rewards and too acts like she cares about nothing (I think as a way of self - protection) I am a very active in parenting and believe firmly on follow through with kids. We teach them to be this way by not following through. It is hard and took a lot of hard knocks for me to get here today. I have a almost 18 year old with Aspergers Syndrome, almost 16 yo with ADHD and an 11 yo with high functioning autism. I too am a very tired parent. Please more information on this and responce to letting the child see this article. I don't think so now for my daughter due to her using information to manipulate. This is the most encouraging website I have found to date! Thank you, thank you, thank you!!!!!

Comment By : rickynshell

* Dear Lookin for help - we're so glad you wrote. There are several articles in the EP archives you might find helpful. I'll add the links at the end of this post. The most important thing to remember is there is no excuse for abuse: if you are being harmed physically, please don't hesitate to reach out to your local police or crisis services for assistance. You might also consider becoming a Total Transformation customer - James' program gives you step by step help in learning how to help your kids change their behaviors. As total Transformation customer, you also have access to the Support Line. These specialists will work one-on-one with you to develop a plan just for your family. Good luck, and let us know if you have questions as you review these articles: Anger as a Weapon When Your Child Points the Gun at You; Child Outbursts Why Kids Blame Make Excuses and Fight When You Challenge Their Behavior; Child Verbal Abuse and Threats; How to Stop Your Child or Teen from Cursing or Swearing

Comment By : Megan Devine, Parental Support Line Advisor

* Dear College mom and Dad With Son - remember that kids will often say "I don't care" when faced with consequences - they are hoping that you'll think they really don't care, and you will give in and let them off the hook. James describes this particular power struggle in his article on motivation: http://www.empoweringparents.com/child-motivation.php. And, don't wait for your child to reveal to you that they DO care. Think of it this way - why would they let you know you've taken something they love? If you think they really don't care, maybe you won't bother taking it away. If you know your child enjoys daily access to something, go with that. When kids say "I don't care," a great response is "I'm sorry you feel that way. Let me know when you're done, and you can have access to the phone. If you don't want to use it by then, that's up to you." Check out "Why Don't Consequences Work for My Teen" in the Ep archives for more ideas. College mom, you describe a classic power struggle between you and your daughter - so frustrating! Some kids have amazing patience. I know a kid who went for 6 months with nothing in his room - his mother even took away his books. Needless to say, that approach did not help him learn better skills or behaviors. He simply used his own imagination to entertain himself, and enjoyed the irritation it caused his mother. Kids can out-wait you, especially if they feel they have no other options, or if they are so far "in debt" with long term consequences they can never get out. Remember, when kids have nothing, they often have no motivation to improve. Giving her a little access to something is like making her hungry for what she likes - hopefully, she will want more. You might consider giving your daughter access to something she enjoys for short periods of time, letting her know she can earn more time when she completes her chores by a certain time. If your daughter is interested in earning things like a cell phone or video games, you might let her know that you will consider them when she can show improvement in completing basic tasks for several days in a row. Good luck, and please keep in touch. --And - College Mom - Realize that privileges are not "bribes." Just as you earn a paycheck for doing your job, your child earns privileges for doing her job - whether that is homework, or chores, or demonstrating better control over her temper. If your child says "you can't bribe me," a great response is, "You're right. You get to earn your phone just as if it were a paycheck. Let me know when you're finished with your chores." And - College Mom - Realize that privileges are not "bribes." Just as you earn a paycheck for doing your job, your child earns privileges for doing her job - whether that is homework, or chores, or demonstrating better control over her temper. If your child says "you can't bribe me," a great response is, "You're right. You get to earn your phone just as if it were a paycheck. Let me know when you're finished with your chores."

Comment By : Megan Devine, Parental Support Line Advisor

This is my 14 year old to a tee. He is a great kid out of the home but a real pistol in our home, particularly towards me. I agree with the writer who said that consequences are the key... whether the teen acts like he/she cares or not. I have been terribly deficient in that department but not anymore. No yelling, no negotiating. There are rules and there are consequences, period. I do believe that at some point, they do get it, particularly if they are good kids at heart which I believe most are.

Comment By : A frustrated mom

Good article. I have parented kids like this and I have worked as a therapist with families who have kids reacting with passive-aggressive behaviors. It is not only the child but how the parent(s) react! You article is right on the point.

Comment By : Stacey Soares,MFT

* Dear 'loving my child': Instead of having your son read this article, we recommend that you use this material to help you recognize the techniques and patterns your son uses and to plan ways to help him improve his behavior. As James Lehman says, passive aggressive behavior is an ineffective coping skill and needs to be replaced with effective coping skills. This is where you can help. For example, if your son is agreeing with you to avoid a confrontation, but has no intention of complying, teach him how to talk to you about any options he might have and to express his emotions in appropriate ways. Remember you can call the Support Line for specific ideas on how to use the program in your situation. Keep in touch.

Comment By : Carole Banks, Parental Support Line Advisor

* Dear ‘Mom in Charge’: You ask a very good question. James Lehman does say that it’s important for parents to role model the behavior they expect from their kids and that our children learn much more from what we do then what we say. While it would be easier if you and your husband were working together on the Total Transformation Program with both of you learning effective parenting skills, you can still focus on using program tools in your own interactions with your children. Do your best to still use problem solving language and remain in emotional control when working with your kids. Sometimes a partner will join in when they see a successful technique demonstrated.

Comment By : Carole Banks, Parental Support Line Advisor

even if a dad acts like this, it is important to be assertive in a positive way in front of the kids so they can see the difference how you want to see things handled. I say things to my spouse such as, I see you have gone to the dark side, when you are ready to return we will continue this discussion. With my kids when they become verbally abusive, I have stood in front of the tv, turn off their game and say, nope we are done here, when you are ready to talk nice I am here. I have stopped the car and made them walk over a mile. Once I dropped my sassy teenager off at the market a mile from the house and 8 PM, a good neighborhood I might add. I pulled up, opened the door, pointed my finger and yelled, OUT OF MY CAR NOW! She got out and pleaded, what if someone takes me? I said, better run home fast. And she did, ran clear up to her room breathless that mom would do such a thing. I have unplugged video games without letting them save data, pulled cables out of walls. Or I go into their rooms, and repeat what I want them to hear, despite their yelling back. They will do anything to shut me up, so they wind up begging me, please I'll do anything you say, just please leave now. When they come downstairs they seem calmer and we can talk. Sometimes I wait for them to go to school, put everything they own in trash bags, take that to the garage, so they return to empty shelves, a bed with no sheets, no shoes or accessories anywhere in sight. They have run into the garage screeming, you know how much that dress costs?? You're paying for the cleaning bill. I give them responsibilities, one showering a younger brother, or taking him for a bike ride, one she bakes for us. When they see you appreciate their hard work, they feel proud. They key is to get them to feel proud about something. With a 14 year old boy, we hold bets sometimes, or he helps carry heavy items into the house or help me fix minor things that break in the house. I tell him he is the strongest and I am glad he is here to help me. But when they become manipulative, I say no discussion for this issue, and be firm.

Comment By : nina

Hello world I am a parent of three girls 15,13,and almost 11. I ell you I don't know how i have made it this fare without pulling my hair out . It hard when you have kids that are spoiled. we have been by ourselves for 3 years now and I have not been able to do what we used to do and now my 15 yr old goes to her room after school and will stay up there until dinner or she wants to go somewhere. My 11 yr old has an attitude out of this world and wants to be the mom. my 10yr old is picking up there wats and i don't want her to. what do i do with honor students with an attitude.

Comment By : friday

You mean I'm not alone with this? I'm a special ed teacher with tons of behavior modification experience and I can't get my own kids to do anything without being on them constantly. I feel like a prison warden except I don't get the gun,LOL!! I don't even get time for myself, they all want to go to bed later than me(14yr not too bad but twin 11yr-ADHD(one in honors),insanity,they are non-compliant in stereo!! I keep asking for help from a higher power but no ones listening. Thanks for venting and letting me vent!!!

Comment By : Twingles

* Dear ‘alliwish4’: It’s never too late for you to decide what behavior is acceptable in your own home—from your young children, teens, or your adult children. Our relationship with our kids changes as they grow older. We have taught them to be more and more independent--to prepare them for when they leave home and are on their own. However, until they have moved out of your house, they should be required to follow reasonable house rules and be respectful of other family members. Such things as cleaning up after themselves, helping to maintain the household and not disturbing others by coming in late, etc. You decide what your house rules are. It can be difficult working with a teen that turns 18 and now thinks they can do whatever they want. James Lehman would call this assumption ‘faulty thinking’. What they are really saying is “I can choose to do what I want and still be dependent on my parent to provide for me.” “I can choose to do what I want and not have any consequences for my behavior.” As a parent, you can choose to no longer provide for your child when they are old enough to be on their own or if their behavior is unacceptable and they need to leave your home. And we are all responsible for our behaviors and the consequences of those behavior choices. James Lehman has written some articles on managing older children that you may find helpful: Rules, Boundaries and Older Children Part I and Rules, Boundaries and Older Children Part III: Is It Ever Too Late to Set up a Living Agreement? Also, call the Support Line for help on using the techniques in the Total Transformation program, such as “Assuming Control” from the One Minute Transformation CD and Lesson 5 - Understanding Faulty Thinking. We appreciate your question. Please keep in touch.

Comment By : Carole Banks, Parental Support Line Advisor

My son is 17. He has a chronic illness similar to chronic fatigue syndrome. He also has a thyroid condition. He has not been in school for over a year. He is constantly exhausted, dizzy, nauseous. He is alone and isolated. He is passive-agressive with me, as he was before becoming ill. He spends his days listening to music, or tv, and some video games. He does not have to energy to leave the house. He is not always compliant with what the doctors want him to do. He says it is too hard, that he is trying, and that he will just wait for things to get better. How do I discipline a physically sick teen? I cannot take away the few things that he has to help pass the time. Do i think about depression? Of course, who wouldn't be? Therapy? He is not interested nor would he have the energy to make the appointments. He only has the energy to bathe, dress and eat. He is angry with me alot and I can see the passive-agressiveness. He is non-communicative with me about his illness, but he does talk to others. So I do think he is manipulating me, but when you have a sick child it is difficult to tell the difference between the illness and the behavior. He does not behave that way with me when others are around though. I do not know how to break the pattern when he is so ill. Or do I wait it out until he is better?

Comment By : mamamyte

mamamyte - wow, that sounds complicated! Are you home with him, or is he home alone much of the time? It would seem to me that you would probably want to have a good discussion with the doctor, with him present, about what he can and should be doing. Approach it from the standpoint of what he CAN do, and don't get caught up in what he cannot do. If he starts pointing out what he cannot do, say OK... but what CAN you do? I know that you don't want to take away everything from him... but if he can watch TV he should be able to read, and if he can play video games he should be able to do learning software on the computer. Really, if he can do those entertaining things but won't do things that are educational but use the same type of motor and thinking skills, then you should consider that he might be just making excuses. So... give those things a try. Set up a simple schedule of expectations. Put it in writing. What time should be he up, dressed, have breakfast? What reading time or study time should take place? How many lessons or what goals should he reach daily on some education software you purchase for the computer or game machine? I'd also start talking to him now rather gently and work your way up to very firmly about how 'waiting for things go get better' is not the best plan... that things have to be done to make them better. Nothing gets better by waiting. Remind him of simple laws of physics, like the fact that something in motion remains in motion unless acted on by an outside force... and that something that is at rest remains at rest unless acted on by an outside force. He is not likely to improve just sitting around playing video games. Feeling better and 'getting a life' are important goals and he needs to OWN those goals and make them something that he strives toward daily. In order to get there it will involve medical professionals, and he should be in the loop and actively working on what they want him to do every day. If he refuses to do what they say, YES YOU NEED TO TAKE AWAY SOMETHING... do the work first, then you play the games. No excuses for avoiding the work that a doctor says he should do and is capable of doing. Be VERY firm on that. I would definitely talk as much as possible with him about the future. Is this what he wants to be doing when he's 20? 30? 60? If it is, ask him how he plans to fund that type of lifestyle when you are older and retired? He has to realize that he must take responsibility for his future, he is not a little boy. I know it must be difficult with the conditions that he faces, but what are the alternatives, really? So there may be things he cannot do... but the idea is to focus on what he CAN do and work toward goals that are reasonable and practical. I'd love to hear how it goes!

Comment By : Stormy Lynn

My grandson age 13 is using this as a way to get back at his abusive father. his father yells and demeans him nonstop. the father does not believe in praise. This seens to be his way to get back and have some power. I'm going crazy watching . what can I possibly do.He is much more complient with us and does as asked.

Comment By : NANNY

* Dear Nanny: You don’t mention if your grandson’s father is your son or your son-in-law. Both situations are delicate, but you should say something. Whenever we witness a child who is abused in this way, we need to speak on behalf of the child. The challenge is to speak as kindly and considerately as you can to your son. You might say, “Son. I’m concerned that you might not be aware of how strong your language is. Do you have some time that you could give me to talk to you about my concerns?”

Comment By : Carole Banks, MSW, Parental Support Line Advisor

I did not reach my 16 year old about her passive aggressive behavior until I found appropriate articles on the website. I copied and pasted the salient points, including how to fix this behavior, into a Word document and printed it out for her. She couldn't believe that this was her until she saw it in print. She used yellow highlights on parts of it and we used it together as a point to begin an OPEN and HONEST talk about this behavior. It was so REFRESHING to have that open talk. She has not completely changed, but she has OWNED her behavior. It's a beginning and a great basis for moving ahead. I am so glad that I let her read about her behavior and how this behavior ultimately hurts her.

Comment By : cynda

Great article for older children. Do you have any advice for me, I am a mother to triplet boys (3 years old now) and an 18-month old boy.

Comment By : mama2fourboys

* To ‘mama2fourboys’: Thank you for your question. Here is a blog that is geared towards kids in your children’s age range: Giving Consequences to Young Kids and Toddlers.

Comment By : Sara Bean, M.Ed., Parental Support Advisor

how ican deal with my aggersive son of 16yrs

Comment By : komal

* Hi Komal. Having a child who is aggressive can be so hard. Here are some other articles that might be helpful to you: Angry Child Outbursts: The 10 Rules of Dealing with an Angry Child & Calm Parenting: Anger Management in Children and Teens. We wish you luck and hope things get better soon.

Comment By : Sara Bean, M.Ed., Parental Support Advisor

What is the best way to deal with passive AGGRESSIVE behavior? My 11 yr old daughter is having trouble with her schoolwork (a result of her ADD). She knew that we were to meet with her teacher after school and that I would meet her there right after classes let out. She didn't appear and finally her brother found her on the bus--she had gone out a back door. Then we walked down to the classroom but it was dark. She said, "Oh, she must have gone. Noone's here." Come to find out the teacher was out sick but didn't get in touch with me because she was in bed and sleeping all day--she had hoped my daughter would have passed on that she hadn't been in school that day. No, my daughter didn't pass that on. She led me to believe the teacher had left. Then my daughter said, "Well, since we're all here, can we go across the street for ice cream?" I bought her ice cream when clearly, she didn't deserve it. How should I deal with this kind of behavior? I'm at a loss...

Comment By : knittymom

* To 'knittymom': It can be very provoking sometimes when kids don’t follow through on plans we make with them. It’s helpful to keep in mind that it’s normal for kids to twist the truth when faced with something that makes them uncomfortable, such as discussing her schoolwork with you and her teacher. This is not to say that it is OK or to diminish that frustration, simply that kids lie to help them solve the problem of feeling that discomfort. It might be useful to do some problem solving with her about what she could do differently when you reschedule with her teacher to discuss her schoolwork. Ask her what she can do to help herself remember to meet with you in a designated space after school, or to pass along pertinent information to you. It might also be helpful to develop an incentive for successfully talking with her teacher, such as going for ice cream after the conversation is complete. I’m including some articles I think you might find pertinent: Kids and Lying: Does Your Child Twist the Truth? & The Surprising Reason for Bad Child Behavior: "I Can't Solve Problems." Good luck to you and your daughter as you continue to work through this.

Comment By : Rebecca Wolfenden, Parental Support Advisor

help I have a 13 year old who is miss behavioural at school don't know what to do for the best he thinks life's unfair his sister gets treated better then him I love them both what should I take away from him to make him realise that school is important

Comment By : kez

* To “kez”: Thank you for your comment. It can be frustrating when you feel you have tried everything, and your son still isn’t changing his behavior. I hear your concern of what might happen if your son doesn’t learn how to become more responsible in school. It is very difficult to change how someone feels or what their attitude is about something. James Lehman thinks it is more effective to focus on the behavior rather than attitude. Ultimately, school is your son’s responsibility. If he is acting out, allow the school to decide what the consequences will be. Your focus at home can be on helping him develop better problem skills. I am including articles that you might find helpful: The Surprising Reason for Bad Child Behavior: "I Can't Solve Problems" , Negative Children: How to Deal with a Complaining Child or Teen . Acting Out in School: When Your Child is the Class Troublemaker Good luck to you and your family as you work through this. Take care.

Comment By : D. Rowden, Parental Support Advisor

I have a 10 year boy who shuts down at school and I don't know what to do and my frustration escalates. He will tear up papers and then just shut down and nothing will get him out of his funk. I feel he is playing all of those around him by manipulating and trying to gain control. I do have the total transformation program and I feel that I am making progress and then all of sudden we go backwards. I don't know how to help the teacher. I feel that he is playing her and that she should be ignoring these behaviors, however, she has a class room of children so it isn't like she can just let these behaviors go as they are distracting. I am really concerned that he is scaring the other children and they will not want anything to do with him. I feel it is very important for children to have peers to turn to and have a friendship with. he is an only child and I worry about him all the time. I have no idea what to do and so desperately need some guidance. Anyone have any ideas?

Comment By : CHD

* To “CHD”: Thank you for sharing your story with us. Struggles at school can be some of the most frustrating and challenging behaviors for parents. I can hear how unsure you feel as to how best to help your son. It probably isn’t going to be effective to give him consequences for behaviors that happen in school. Instead, we would suggest focusing on problem solving and possibly implementing an incentive plan to help him improve his behavior in school. As Carol Banks suggests in her article Problems at School? How to Handle the Top 4 Issues, your first step is talking with the teacher to try to get at what problem your child may be trying to solve by acting out. Then, take some time to sit with him and discuss what he can do differently the next time he wants to act out. You might also consider an incentive plan which focuses on appropriate behavior at school. For example, you may have him earn extra time outside or on the computer when he behaves appropriately in school. Or, you could have a behavior chart where he can earn points or stickers toward a larger goal. A helpful article about using behavior charts is Child Behavior Charts: How to Use Behavior Charts Effectively. Good luck to you and your family as you work through this challenging issue. Take care.

Comment By : D. Rowden, Parental Support Advisor

I have 3 daughters aged 11, 5 and 2 and married. My husband works 6 days a week. I work only 2 days a week. The article sounds just like my 11 year old behavior only she shows her aggression she is such a bully to her younger siblings, she goes to a good religious school, she is involved in community sports, she is a high achiever athletic wise, and academically she has everyday chores which we enforce her to do after telling her 3 times she does get paid for it, when ever i ask her to do something it takes me yelling at her black and blue then we end up in a yelling match she gets very aggressive and yells at me and yells at her siblings all day. I don't know where all this anger is coming from I have tried to talk to her to see what is bothering her. She seems like she has the problem with me she always gives me stares down and looks me up and down like I am a piece of crap. She always mumbles things under her breath. I have given her consequences even considering boarding school next year if her behavior continues just sick of her attitude and aggression it is starting to rub off on younger siblings. I am also searching if there is medication she can take to calm her moods.

Comment By : Tired of the aggression

We have a 12 year old son who is textbook passive aggressive. All the advice, including what's here on your site don't work on him. Either he's too smart and sees what we're doing, but nothing works. Every time I read advice on kids like my son, I shake my head, chuckle as absolutely nothing works on him. Are there some teen kids who simply don't respond to expert advice?

Comment By : Trent

* To “Trent”: You ask an interesting question. It’s not a question that has a simple yes or no answer, however. Not all tools and techniques are going to work with every child in every situation. One thing to keep in mind is that all behavior is purposeful, meaning your son is solving some problem with his passive aggressive behavior. It could be that your son has learned how to gain power over a situation by resisting you, as James suggests in the article. It could be he’s able to get out of completing his chores or following through with other expectations by “forgetting” what was asked of him or putting it off until someone else ends up doing it for him. This is the “learned helplessness” James discusses in the article. Passive aggressive behavior can take many forms but the end result is usually the same: a child gets something or gets out of something by behaving in a passive aggressive way. Basically, your son uses passive aggressive behavior to solve his problems because it works for him. Without knowing more of your particular situation, it would be difficult to say what the reason is that certain tools don’t work. It can be helpful to make a list of consequences to use when your son doesn’t meet expectations, as outlined in the article Setting Limits with Difficult Kids: How to Get Them to Listen. It is also going to be helpful to problem solve with your son ways he can solve his problems more effectively. Sara Bean goes over how to have a problem-solving conversation in her article The Surprising Reason for Bad Child Behavior: "I Can't Solve Problems.” It’s not unusual to see the behavior get worse before it gets better. Many kids will “up the ante” so to speak when you start implementing different parenting techniques in an attempt to get you to go back to doing what you had been doing. We hope this information answers your question. We wish you and your family the best. Take care.

Comment By : D. Rowden, Parental Support Advisor

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