How to Talk to a Passive Aggressive Manipulative Child

Passive aggression does not require maturity and complex thought processes to carry out. Even a young child is capable of demonstrating passive-aggressive manipulation, states Signe Whitson, author and social worker with Psychology Today. If your child is exhibiting covert anger, you may feel frustrated and overwhelmed as you interact with him. Talking with a passive-aggressive manipulative child may tax your patience as you strive to discourage these actions and teach different behaviors.

Choose a calm time to discuss negative behaviors with your child. James Lehman, MSW, with Empowering Parents, recommends approaching your child when no issues are simmering or affecting his behavior 2. Explain to your child that you have noticed some issues that concern you, such as responding slowly when you give an instruction, purposely forgetting instructions, completing tasks in a substandard fashion or procrastinating with tasks.

Tell your child that you will be instituting specific time frames whenever you assign a task or give a directive. In addition to the time frame, you will also be creating a specific consequence if your child does not complete the task or directive within the time frame.

Provide an incentive for cooperation and compliance by making a reward for fast compliance. If you give him by dinner time to complete a chore and he finishes it an hour before dinner, he may get 20 minutes of gaming time or he may get to stay up 30 minutes later that evening.

Ask your child about any angry feelings he may be experiencing to help resolve the passive aggression. It’s imperative that you make it “safe” to confide and express angry or frustrated feelings, recommends Lehman. You might say, “Everybody feels angry and scared sometimes. If you feel mad or afraid, you can always tell me about it and I’ll listen.”

Listen if your child confides negative feelings. Accept the feelings and provide an empathetic response such as, “I hear that you’re frustrated right now. You still need to do these chores, though, even when you feel frustrated or mad.”


If you need help determining whether your child is showing passive-aggressive, manipulative behavior, Kareen Smith, with University of Minnesota, Minneapolis, provides these tips. Examine how you feel after engaging with your child. If you feel angry, confused, powerless or helpless, your child was probably demonstrating passive-aggressive behavior. If you feel calm and the situation resolved with your child positively, it’s likely that you dealt with any misbehavior in a positive manner.