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Conduct Disorders: Assesssment & Diagnosis
Conduct Disorders continuing education addiction counselor CEUs

Section 21
Six Different Testing Tactics

CEU Question 21 | CEU Answer Booklet | Table of Contents | Conduct Disorders
Psychologist CEs, Social Worker CEUs, Counselor CEUs, MFT CEUs


Here are the six fundamental strategies that children use at times when they do not want to cooperate with the adults who are frustrating them. See if they sound familiar regarding a student you may be treating.

1. Badgering
Badgering is the "Please, please, please, please!" or "Why, why, why?" routine. "Just this once! Just this once! Just this once! Just this once!" There are some children who could have been machine guns during World War II! The child just keeps after you and after you and after you, trying to wear you down with repetition. "Just give me what I want and I'll be quiet!" is the underlying message.
Badgering can be particularly taxing when it is done very loudly and also when it is done with other people around, such as the rest of the class! Some teachers attempt to respond to everything a frustrated child says every time she says it. They may try to explain, to reassure or to distract. As the badgering continues, though, these teachers can become more and more desperate, going on the equivalent of a verbal wild-goose chase while searching for the right words or reasons to make the youngster keep quiet. Many kids, however, are extremely single-minded once their badgering starts. They won't stop until they either get what they want or until the adult in charge uses a more effective approach to stop the testing. We'll soon clarify exactly what that approach will be.
Badgering is what we refer to as a great "blender" tactic, since it mixes easily with other manipulative strategies. The basic element in badgering, of course, is repetition. So when any of the other verbal testing tactics are repeated again and again, the resulting manipulative strategy is a combination of that other tactic plus the repetitive power of badgering.

2. Temper (Intimidation)
Displays of temper, or what we sometimes refer to as intimidation, are obvious, aggressive attacks. Younger children, who aren't so adept with words yet, may throw themselves on the floor, bang their heads, holler at the top of their lungs and kick around ferociously. Older kids, whose language skills are more developed, may come up with arguments that accuse you of being unjust, illogical or simply a bad person in general. When frustrated, some kids may also swear or angrily complain.
Some children's fits of temper go on for very long periods. Many children with ADHD or bipolar disorder, for example, have been known to rant and rave for more than an hour at a time. In the process they may damage property or break things. Tantrums are often prolonged (1) if the child has an audience, (2) if the adult involved continues talking, arguing or pleading with the youngster or (3) if the adult doesn't know what to do.
Temper fits in two-year-olds can be aggravating, but they can also be funny. As kids get older and more powerful, however, tantrums get more worrisome and scarier. That's why we like to see these fits well-controlled or eliminated by the time a child is five or six.

3. Threat
Frustrated kids will sometimes threaten their teachers with dire predictions if the adults don't come across with the desired goods. Here are a few examples:

"I'm going to run home!"
"I'l1 never speak to you again!" "I'm going to scream!"
"I'm not eating lunch and I won't do my work! !"
"I'm going to tell my parents!"

The message is clear: Something bad is going to happen unless you give me what I want immediately. Give me the treat, stop counting me, don't make me work; OR ELSE! Some of the threats that younger children come up with are humorous, while others are not. Some frustrated children threaten to kill themselves, and this is something no one takes lightly. Many adults wonder if this is just manipulative or if their child really wants to die. Most schools have policies in place regarding such comments, so be sure to check with your administrator as to how this is handled.

4. Martyrdom
Martyrlike testing tactics are a perennial favorite of children. When using martyrdom, the child may indicate that his life has become totally unfair and an incredible burden. "No one around here likes me anymore," "I never get anything," or "You like her more than me," are examples.

Or the youngster may actually do something that has a self-punitive, self-denying flavor, such as not eating lunch, sitting in the closet for an hour or staring out the window without talking. Crying, pouting and simply looking sad or teary can also be effective manipulative devices.

The goal of martyrdom, obviously, is to make the adult feel guilty, and martyrdom can be surprisingly effective. This testing tactic is very difficult for many adults to handle. Many grown ups seem to have a "guilt button" the size of the state of Wyoming! All the kids have to do is push that button and the youngsters wind up running the place.

Children learn early on that teachers are highly invested in the welfare of their students. Kids know their caretakers want them safe, happy and healthy. Unfortunately, kids also seem to naturally appreciate a logical consequence of this adult commitment: Acting hurt or deprived can be a powerful way of influencing adult behavior.

Two-year-olds, for example, will sometimes hold their breath till they turn blue when they are mad about not getting what they want. Many of us wonder how a little child can even come up with an idea like that. They can and they do!'

5. Butter Up
The fifth tactic, butter up, takes an approach that's different from the first four. Instead of making you feel uncomfortable, with butter up the child tries to make you feel good-at least at the start. You may then run the risk of losing this good feeling if you subsequently frustrate the child.

"Gee; Miss Smith, you've got the prettiest eyes of any teacher I know," is a fairly blatant example. Or, "I think I'll go straighten up the bookshelf. It's been looking kind of messy for the last few weeks."

With butter up the basic message from child to adult is: "You'll feel really bad if you mistreat, discipline or deny me after how nice I've been to you." Butter up is intended to be an advance set-up for adult guilt. The child is implying, "You'll feel so positively toward me that you won't have the heart to make me feel bad."

Promises can be used by children as butter-up manipulation. "Please, please. I'll eat my lunch and I promise I won't even have any ice cream," said one little girl who wanted a snack at 9:00 in the morning. Some promises kids make are impossibilities. Have you heard this one? "I'll never ask you for anything ever again."

Apologies can be sincere, and they can also be examples of butter-up testing. "I'm sorry, I'm sorry. I said I'm sorry," one little boy pleaded in an attempt to avoid a trip to the principal's office.

Butter-up manipulation is obviously the least obnoxious of all the testing tactics. Some people, in fact, don't think it should be labeled as testing at all. It is true that butter up is sometimes hard to distinguish from genuine affection. If a child says, "I like you," and then proceeds not to ask for anything, it's probably genuine affection. And a child who asks if he can have a sticker if he finishes his work may be proposing a straightforward and legitimate deal. But if you've ever heard a teacher say, "The only time Johnny's nice is when he wants something," that person is probably referring to the butter-up tactic.

6. Physical Tactics
This last form of testing is perhaps the worst. Here the frustrated child may physically attack the adult, break something or run away. Physical methods of trying to get one's way, of course, are more common in smaller children who don't have well developed language. When the use of this type of testing continues beyond age four or five, however, we begin to worry. Some kids have a long history of this behavior, and the bigger the child gets, the scarier their physical strategies get.
Other frustrated, physically oriented kids will smash or break things-sometimes even their own possessions. Another physical testing tactic, running away, is not used a lot by younger children, though there have been a few children who have actually left school and run home. Threats to run away-rather than really doing it-appear more often in this age group.

Badgering, temper, threat, martyrdom, butter up and physical tactics. These are the methods children use to get their way from adults. And all these tactics, except butter up, can also be used by kids to punish the uncooperative adults who obstinately persist in refusing to give the youngsters what they want.
- Phelan PhD, Thomas and Sarah Jane Schonour, MA, "1-2-3 Magic for Teachers: Effective Classroom Discipline Pre-K through Grade 8", ParentMagic, Inc: Illinois, 2004.
The article above contains foundational information. Articles below contain optional updates.

Personal Reflection Exercise #7
The preceding section contained information about the difference between the six basic testing tactics. Write three case study examples regarding how you might use the content of this section in your practice.

Online Continuing Education QUESTION 21
What are the six "testing the limits" tactics used by conduct disordered youths? Record the letter of the correct answer the CEU Answer Booklet.

 
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