Passive-Aggressive Behavior – Typical Responses and Reasons They Do Not Work

Many of us struggle with our children when they dawdle, complain or refuse to do their work. We can agree that we are normal and our kids are normal. Normal, however, is not where we want to stay because normal can be very bad for the nerves and productivity! We need a plan to take back control.

Realistic Expectations

First, let’s determine if our expectations are realistic. Consider:

  • If your child is developmentally ready and able to do the work
  • If the workload is reasonable

If the work is appropriate, reasonable and the child is capable but simply unwilling, we know that we are dealing with attitude and behavior. That requires disciplinary action.

Just What is Passive-Aggressive Behavior and How do I Know if We Have it?

Passive-aggressive behavior is a non-aggressive means of resisting authority. Children often respond this way because they are not strong enough or bold enough to blatantly defy adults. It works like this:

You ask Sally to do a task. She doesn’t want to do it so she takes as long as possible, does it poorly, ignores or forgets instructions or forgets the task completely! Think of Sunday mornings when a child’s dawdling makes everyone late for church.

Toddlers and preschoolers are easily distracted and have difficulty staying on task. They need a loving parent alongside to keep them focused. Older children, however, will often choose passive resistance as a means of gaining control. It’s called pushing someone’s buttons and the someone is you.

Typical Responses

We generally respond to this behavior in one or more ways:

We coax or plead. “C’mon Sally. You can do this easily! Please! Let’s get this done!”

We hint or use sarcasm. “Someone’s not working very fast.” or “Wow! Only three hours this time! Must be a record.”

We warn or threaten. “If you don’t get busy, you’ll be here all afternoon. You know how you hate that!” or “If you don’t do this, you can’t go to the birthday party this afternoon. I’m warning you. I mean it!” or “I should phone Grandma and tell her all about it.”

We bribe. “If you get your math done before Dad gets home, I’ll make pizza for supper.”

We rant and rave, attacking the child’s character. “This makes my blood boil! Some days you are so lazy. Even a baby could do this work in less time.”

We grumble to others, especially in front of the child. “Daddy, you wouldn’t believe how long it took Sally to do her work today. I don’t know what I’m going to do with her!”

Reasons These Responses Don’t Work

We know that none of these methods work. If they did, the problem would disappear. One reason they don’t work is that they reinforce negative behavior. Our children get away with the original behavior and they receive more attention than they would by working hard. By usurping authority, however, they feel miserable and may start bickering with their siblings as a way of venting their frustration.

Another reason these approaches don’t work is that you are publicly taking ownership of the problem. They know that you care more deeply than they do about the work getting done. You are frustrated; they aren’t.

What Does Work?

That takes me to the plan, and for that, I will need another article. Watch for Part Three coming to a homeschooling ezine near you!

God bless you as you juggle the many balls required to homeschool well.

Dianne Dachyshyn is a freelance writer and a motivational speaker who lives in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada.  She works as a home education facilitator, helping homeschooling families plan their programs and deal with challenges.  Dianne is passionate about teaching children to write.  Visit her website at

avatar Dianne Dachyshyn (14 Posts)

Dianne Dachyshyn is a freelance writer and a motivational speaker who lives in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. She works as a home education facilitator, helping homeschooling families plan their programs and deal with challenges. Before working as a facilitator, she home educated her three children for seven years. She has sold curriculum, worked as a private consultant to homeschoolers, served on a homeschooling board and has been a keynote speaker at homeschool conventions and support meetings. Dianne is passionate about teaching children to write. From her experience in the classroom, in homeschooling and in relationships with other writers, she knows that this is by far the most challenging area to learn and to teach. Dianne Dachyshyn is available to speak to groups on the topics of homeschooling, parenting and teaching writing. She can be reached at

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