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Although the majority of children use
self-assertion and temper tantrums as the primary means of dealing with the experience
of anger, some children seem to be inherently more passive and less assertive. You
recognize anger in these children through their tendency to pout and withdraw.

Through whatever mechanism the pouting and
withdrawing behavior develops, it is unacceptable and ineffectual. Just as it
is unacceptable for two children who quarrel over a checker game to have temper
tantrums, it is also unacceptable for either of them to withdraw, become whiny,
or refuse to play or interact with others for a long period of time.

As with other problematic behavior, dealing with
pouting and withdrawal hardly seems worth the effort on any given occasion. It
is, however, worth it in the long run. If children learn pouting and withdrawal
usually get them what they want, the behavior normally persists. If they do not
get what they want, they are forced to come up with more effective ways of
dealing with their angry feelings.

How do you deal with pouting and withdrawal in your
children? Most typically, by ignoring it. This is true unless it has become
severe. For example, some children pout or remain withdrawn for days or weeks
at a time. In these extreme situations, ignoring the behavior only makes it
worse. These children need professional mental health attention. Here, focus is
not on chronic pouters but on children who use withdrawal and pouting as a
temporary response to angry feelings.

With children who withdraw or pout for a few
minutes or a few hours, ignoring the behavior ordinarily results
in their getting bored with pouting and withdrawing. Their urge to participate
and receive attention motivates them to give up pouting and withdrawing. If
possible, then, a first response to pouting and withdrawing behavior is to
simply ignore it, for as much as a few hours if necessary.

A second kind of response to pouting and
withdrawal is to insist your child stops the behavior. If this does not work,
insisting may be escalated through having your child come out of his room to
watch TV with everyone else, making him sit at the supper table whether he eats
or not, insisting he participates in a particular activity, and so on.

A third approach to pouting and withdrawing
behavior is to encourage your child to talk with you about his feelings and to
express them. It really does help if he can get it off his chest.

A fourth way of dealing with this type of
behavior is to talk with your child about the circumstances evoking the pouting
and withdrawal and to help him think of alternative ways of dealing with the
situation. It gives him an increased sense of power to have some ideas and
notions about how to deal with the problem when it comes up in the future.

Sometimes, pouting and withdrawal (as with
temper tantrums) are more or less justified. The appropriate response from you then
is to change the situation evoking the anger. For example, an adolescent may
have asked for permission to go to a ball game. Unfortunately, you are upset
about something else and you tell your child “No.” Your child
experiences anger and starts pouting and withdrawing. Then you realize you have
been unfair. So, you go to your child and say, “You asked me about going
to the ball game and I told you ‘No.’ Now I realize I was upset with something
else and said ‘No’ without really thinking. I really think it is fine if you go
to the ball game.” Adolescents being the way they are, your child may not
accept your change of heart and may continue to pout and withdraw and refuse to
go to the ball game. Then, it becomes your adolescent’s problem.
His pouting and withdrawing are only then unacceptable.

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