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Children are gaining the upper hand

December 11, 2011
By CATHY BROWNFIELD - Family Recovery Center , Salem News

Your child hears you call him or her to get up in the morning, but chooses to ignore you. They piddle around while they eat breakfast, do homework and chores. It isn't until you become completely frustrated and begin to yell that your child does what you've been after him to do. Experts call it "passive resistance." That means the child learns to develop power over you by resisting you. You may correct him. You may threaten him. But (s)he does what he wants without speaking.

These children are unable to communicate well or resolve their anger or anxiety. The only means they have to get back at their parents and to gain power is through passive resistance. They avoid feelings. They can't confront anger. They need to learn to talk about what they think is unfair, conflicts, hostility, frustrations.

Writes James Lehman in his article "Passive-Aggressive Child Behavior: Hidden Anger in Kids" (, "Sadly, this pattern will often continue to develop in a person's life through adulthood-and make no mistake, it causes serious problems for themWhen 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."

Lehman advises that those people who are passive-aggressive don't know they have this behavior problem until it's identified. The teenager who passively defies his or her parents is making them lower their expectations until they have none at all. The child is set up for failure. The longer it goes on, the harder it is to correct.

Some things to think about

How do you handle anger in your home? Do you hide your anger from your children? Children need to understand that it's OK to be angry sometimes. When they see how you handle your anger they learn how to handle theirs.

Does he drag his heels on homework because he doesn't understand it or it seems so massive a project that he can't grasp it? Is there something going on at school that is causing anxiety?

If a teacher has said to you, "Your child is unteachable," is the real problem that he has passively resisted that teacher and academic expectations have dropped to zero?

On the right track

Children use passive resistance to get out of being responsible for themselves. They need to learn self-discipline and organization skills. Be direct in discussing the problems you see with passive resistance. Set expectations and time limits and be steadfast about them. Enforce them. Don't back down. Parents need to be reasonable, but they are 'parents' for a reason. Everyone has consequences for their actions and children/teens need to understand they are responsible for their consequences. If they complete their tasks on time, they deserve a positive reward. If they fail to meet expectations, they have earned discipline.

Talk to your child and enourage your child to talk to you about his anger. Expectations have to be clear. Don't make excuses for your child. He has to learn how to take care of himself and meet his responsibilities. He needs to be held accountable for his actions-or inactions. His parents are the guides to learn these coping skills to carry in their life toolbox.

For more information about passive resistance in youth, contact Family Recovery Center at 964 N. Market St., Lisbon; phone, 330-424-1468 or e-mail, FRC promotes the well being of individuals, families and communities with education, prevention and treatment programs. FRC is funded, in part, by Columbiana County Mental Health Services & Recovery Board.



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