Saturday, November 17, 2007


Sorry, it has been awhile since my last post. We have been in Canada giving seminars.
A question came up regarding passive aggressive students in the last seminar that I would like to address in this post.
Passive aggressive behaviour usually as the individual's feeling of powerlessness within their environment. By exhibiting non-compliance, complaining, not completing work tasks, or "purposeful" forgetting, while appearing to be polite, accommodating, and not understanding why people are frustrated with them. Could this behaviour actually be the result of the student's lack of self esteem and does the negative attention for the behaviour continue to drive the behaviour?
Student's learn very quickly that they receive attention for their passive aggresive behaviour. It may be that their behaviour is reinforced through receiving the negative attention rather than trying to avoid the task or assignment. Passive aggressive students may also feel that is not okay to express their anger or feelings so they express these feelings through their passive aggressive behaviour.

The DSM-IV also contains criteria for passive aggressiveness noting the following behaviours.

"A. A pervasive pattern of negativistic attitudes and passive resistance to demands for adequate performance, beginning by early adulthood and present in a variety of contexts, as indicated by four (or more) of the following:
(1) passively resists fulfilling routine social and occupational tasks
(2) complains of being misunderstood and unappreciated by others
(3) is sullen and argumentative
(4) unreasonably criticizes and scorns authority
(5) expresses envy and resentment toward those apparently more fortunate
(6) voices exaggerated and persistent complaints of personal misfortune
(7) alternates between hostile defiance and contrition

The triggers that may be exhibited by the student:

1. Frustration with self or others - at this point they have no idea how to turn the situation into a positive result so they begin to try to seek negative attention
2. The student may have successfully "annoyed" the teacher and the teacher may respond with a reprimand.
3. May lead to student defensiveness. "You don't like me" "I never did anything" May respond as the victim.
4. The teacher may try to regain control by focusing on the student's negative attitude.
5. The teacher may then try to "lay down the law" which reinforces the student's perception that he/she is the victim and the teacher treats them poorly.
This tends to occur in cycles and the negative behaviour is consistently being reinforced.


1. Determine the inappropriate behaviour through a functional assessment.
2. Analyze your own behaviour when in conflict with the student. Does it escalate the response? How do you feel after the conflict - confused, frustrated, angry?
3. Make a list of the behaviours that annoy you the most. Target the first 3 - 5.
4. Outline the behaviours that you feel would be acceptable beside the undesired behaviour.
5. Keep yourself calm and protect yourself from engaging in a manipulative attempt by the student.
6. Formal meeting with the student and the parent to outline what the proactive plans are to help the child learn new and acceptable behaviours.
7. Let the child know that you care if they pass or fail, feel happy or sad, loved or unloved......
8. Peer involvement may be beneficial in helping the student.
9. Don't forget that the student's behaviour is not always passive aggressive because they are disengaged from the learning that is being presented.
10. Teach positive self talk strategies so the student can begin to realize that they are not a bad, naught or awful person.

Helping the student make sense of their behaviour may help free the child from their hopelessness (Marquoit, 2004). Decrease the focus on the behaviour and try to intervene by trying to understand where the student's anger originated and work on those issues to help the child overcome and work through their anger. Increasing the relationship between the staff and student is a priority. Helping the student realize that the anger is typically an irrational belief that all adults are not interested in helping them (Marquoit, 2004).

You may want to try this book: Managing Passive Aggressive Behaviour of Children and Youth: The Angry Smile by Jody Long and Nicholas Long

We have launched our ONLINE SCHOOL

One of the biggest issues that I hear about from teachers and caregivers is the behaviour of the children or youth in their school, program ...