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Passive-Aggressive Example
Child Holding Family Emotionally Hostage

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The following is an example from website readers of passive-aggressive encounters they have experienced. The suggested responses are not personal advice as a full evaluation of the situation is not available. Also, the suggestions may not work in every situation but are to give you an idea of possible ways to respond. For more, read: Crazy-Makers: Passive-Aggressive People and 7 Rules and 8 Methods for Responding to Passive-aggressive People

Question: Daughter is asking for a guinea pig for Christmas and is stating if she doesn't get one she will stay in her room all day and make sure everyone else's day is bad, too. I am reluctant to get her one because I got her a hamster with all the bells and whistles for her birthday in April and she decided she no longer wanted to care for it and let it go outside 8 weeks later.

Response: This is a great example of a passive-aggressive (PA) in training. If the parent gives in to this emotional blackmail, the daughter learns that PA behavior is the way to get what she wants. This creates a disruptive and difficult relationship with her parent (who will be looking for an escape by the time the daughter is a teenager). However, the issue isn't so much about her relationship with her parent, the problem is that it teaches her daughter that PA behavior is how to handle all future relationships.

In addition, given that this behavior is related to the care of animals, the daughter is learning that pets are disposable depending upon her emotional whims. This parent needs to consider what are the lessons the daughter needs to be taught. Sure, it is easier to give into a child's behavior to make them temporarily behave. But it is at the cost of the child's future because what she learns now is how she will behave in the future. Does this parent want the daughter to grow up being PA in her relationships and treating everyone as if they exist to serve her and throwing them away when they no longer suit her? Children don't magically change when they become adults. Instead, they become what they are taught.

This parent needs to stand her ground and teach her daughter that this is not acceptable behavior. The parent shouldn't argue, explain, or otherwise engage with the daughter except to say, "No, you are not ready to have a pet." Repeat as necessary. If the daughter wants to stay in her room all day--fine! Let her stay in her room. And if she comes out of the room trying to make everyone miserable, put her back in the room. She can't make everyone miserable unless they allow her. The rest of the family should focus on enjoying their Christmas without her and including her only when she chooses to behave. Does this make for a pleasant Christmas? Perhaps not. But isn't the lesson for her future more important than any one day in the present? The responsibility of parents is to teach children appropriate behavior for their future, not to make sure the child is always happy in the present (even if it is Christmas).

Under no condition should this daughter have another pet until she learns how to treat people better and understands the value of other living creatures. Holding people emotionally hostage is not appropriate. And throwing animals outside to die is not appropriate, either. However, the only way to teach her these lessons is through setting limits and applying consequences to her behavior (explaining, cajoling, arguing doesn't work). The consequence of not caring for a pet is that she is not ready to have another one. The consequence for trying to make everyone miserable to get what she wants is that she can be miserable by herself in her room.

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