Child's Play: Why Passive Aggression Works So Well for Children

Testing limits the passive aggressive way.

Posted Oct 21, 2009

Lest you think that passive aggressive behavior is only for the experienced antagonizer, it should be noted that younger children are perfectly capable of using compliant defiance. Like their older counterparts who gather that passive aggression can be more satisfying (and often less likely to result in punishment or immediate confrontation) than overt aggression, even preschool-aged children catch on to the fact that a tantrum in the candy aisle will result in being whisked out of a store, but pretending not to hear Mommy say "Look but don't touch" can easily result in an "accidentally" unwrapped candy bar and subsequent chocolate purchase!

I witnessed two funny examples of preschool passive aggression just yesterday:

My three year old was happily playing with her father, but after a time, he needed to make work phone calls, so he ended their playtime...much to her disgruntlement...and walked into his home office, closing the door behind him. Keen enough to understand that yelling outside of his door would result in consequences she did not want, our daughter did the next best thing outside of that door; she locked it. If Daddy wanted to work in his office, then she could help make that happen, since he now had no way of getting out!

She was subtle enough in her act of passive aggression, that I didn't even notice her locking of his door. She and I then spent a good 90 minutes together in another part of the house...a part far, far away by my design, as my intention was to keep my husband's office area nice and quiet. As it turned out, he spent most of that hour and a half knocking on his own door, hoping we would be close enough to hear and let him out! Guess she showed him...

My second observation was at a karate studio, where 5-8 year olds were taking their afternoon class:

A 4-year old little sister was eager to join her sibling in the class. Though she had an understanding of the studio's rules against non-students going "on the mat" and she could clearly hear her parents' repeated admonishments not to enter the studio, she entertained herself by testing all of the limits given. With a classic angry smile on her face, she kept stepping on the mat and looking back at her mom, waiting for her mom to notice. When her father would warn her to step back, she smiled a little bigger and stepped forward. As her parents grew more and more frustrated with having to repeatedly warn her and carry her out of the studio, her enjoyment of the passive aggressive game increased. It was one of those moments that was cute from an observer's point of view...maddening from a parent's perspective...and oh, so amusing from the child's!

Once I shared my two stories, fellow parents had plenty of their own examples to compare. Read below for additional, hilariously conniving examples of passive aggressive behavior in young children. Also, please use the comment section below to post your own tales!

I'm in Control of the Remote!

A friend of my daughter's was over and she was looking through papers. I told her that the table she was moving things on was an "off limits" table in our house and that it was really important that the papers not be moved. She grudgingly respected the limit ;) Later, we were looking for the remote to put on a twenty-minute show during snack time and I couldn't find it. We looked EVERYWHERE! I noticed how quiet she was and how she was distracting herself coloring at the playroom table. I asked the little girl if she had any idea where the remote control might be? And she said, "Oh, I forgot! I moved it because I wanted to make sure it was safe and didn't get hurt when we were playing!" And she dug it out from underneath the side of the tv. Eight-year-olds are GREAT at showing you how they feel about the limits you set :)

On 10/13/09, Anonymous shared...

Like Story: Locking doors!
My son was 3 ½ years old at the time of his first rebellion against authority. I was outside planting flowers, and it was getting late. My husband came out to check on my progress. Just as my husband turned around to go back into the house our son slammed the door in his face. We thought he would open the door immediately. However, from behind the door came a rather small but defiant voice telling us that it was his house now. We continued to call his name and knock on the door. After several minutes he stopped all communication. The next noise we heard was the sound of a small vacuum I always used to vacuum the stairs. I knew immediately that my refusal to allow him to play with the vacuum was at the root of his actions.

My husband continued to knock and call his name while I looked through our kitchen window. I could see he had switched tools (toys), and he was using a broom. When I knocked on the window to get his attention, he just smiled and continued to sweep the floor. I was becoming alarmed because I had no idea what he would do next. I decided to go to a neighbor's house and call him on the phone. My husband watched him through the window as I made my way next door. I found out later from my husband that he appeared to be delighted that the phone was ringing, and he was the only one there to answer it. But first, being only 3 ½ feet tall, he had to push a chair over to the counter in order to reach the phone. When he realized I was on the other end, he was quite disappointed. I pleaded with him to open the door. Ultimately, the knowledge that he would be eating his favorite food for dinner convinced him to unlock the door.

Has your son or daughter used passive aggressive behavior to test your limits and/or express his anger?  Can you see the humor in it now?

Please use the comment section below to post your own tales of passive aggression in children and adolescents. Check back to see what others have shared as well.

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