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.
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.
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
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.
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:
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! !"
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.
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
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.
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.
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!'
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.
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."
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."
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.
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
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.
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
What are the six "testing the limits" tactics used by conduct
disordered youths? Record the letter of the correct answer the .