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 For example, some children pout or remain withdrawn for days or weeks at a time.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.