Passive aggressive children (coworkers, siblings, roommates) suck the energy right of you, don’t they? People don’t wake up one day and decide to be passive aggressive. No, they act that way because of years of practice, but it begins in childhood. It is most often seen in a child who is given a job–be it getting dressed, cleaning a room, or doing schoolwork, and who then dawdles through it. The child professes to be working at it and so he/she shouldn’t be chastised. In reality, your instruction is being ignored and it drives you to the point of pulling your hair out. That’s the key point in diagnosing passive aggression. If it doesn’t make you crazy, it isn’t passive or it isn’t aggression. But when you see it and before you reach the crazy stage, implement character training. It must be weeded out before it takes root and becomes a way of life.
Take a lesson from Mother Nature. We see this in the lives of people, not animals. First of all, no mama rhino would let her child be non-compliant. And secondly, dawdlers in the animal kingdom are eaten when the lions chase the pack. Therefore they cease to exist. The mama rhino knows this instinctively and trains it out of her offspring. Let us learn from the rhino!
In us humans it’s different, and all too often we make allowances for it. Sometimes we think we can reason it away. Nope. The child (and counterpart adult) may not even by cognizant of the origins of this behavior. Thus scolding, talking, reminding and yelling all prove ineffective. In our household this week, passive aggression came in the form of a young miss who just sat and did no math, while professing three hours later she was doing it but it was just so hard. (sob, sob) Sound familiar? (Let me just clarify here that when forced to do it, she completed her work in less than 15 minutes. Let’s not fall prey to tears, feeling sorry for the tyke. No, she was dawdling.)
Obviously a spouse, sibling or coworker acts outside the realm of your authority, so you cannot compel a change. Only influence can be brought to bear. But a child is your responsibility. Your primary job if you've chosen to have a family is raising up children who become productive adults. Refusing to deal with dawdling hurts not just the rhythm of the present day, but will impact your child in future years. No one enjoys being around a passive aggressive person, no employer likes to hire a passive aggressive person, and few spouses remain married to a passive aggressive person. Fail to deal with it, and your child will pay the price for a very, very long time. Sadly, so will you.
Ready to fix the problem? These are my five tips for dealing with dawdlers:
1. Move the child next to you. Children who see constant eyes upon them finally dig in and get the job done. K did her math in minutes once I had her within arm’s reach and kept my eyes on her. Of course it upsets your day and requires your attention, but putting in the required time pays off in the end. It’s your job. Just do it. Be the rhino. Everything else can wait when your child needs correction.
2. Reward dawdling with consequences. K had math, math, math, math, math drills until I saw a change of attitude and performance. Only then was she allowed to work independently (away from my side) and then still on math, until she proved her good workmanship. In the words of Gilbert and Sullivan, “Let the punishment fit the crime.” For another situation it might mean cleaning the bathroom and the hall and the kitchen after the original chore was accomplished (with mom lounging in full view, iced tea in hand.) Life has consequences. Don’t thwart that natural order if you wish to raise a responsible child.
3. Train for character. Post a definition you like on the wall. Memorize it with your child. Keep a chart with check marks and hearts to chart progress. Talk. Inspire. Praise. Passive aggressive children–after consequences have been applied–need a heavy dose of conversation. Why do you suppose you didn’t do your math? and Did it make you happy to be disobedient? and How do you feel now? Many of us act unconsciously when upset until we are able to sit down, ponder, and figure out what made us feel that way. If we have trouble pinpointing a problem as adults, surely we shouldn’t expect self awareness in a child. Focus on the situation at hand and let your child grow up a little before you try psychoanalysis. But talk. A lot. Growing love inspires a child to be obedient. Do this as often as necessary. Your child needs to know that he/she will NEVER win the war of passive aggression. Clear the calendar as often as necessary and get ‘er done. Expect recurrences when boundaries are tested yet again.
In conclusion, never let your child win in the game of dawdling. Parents, be the rhino! Do your duty. Take the raising of your children as seriously as your primary source of employment, and do the job thoroughly. Yes, it requires time and effort, but you’ll love that youngster all the more as an adult, an adult who isn’t passive aggressive.