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Try working at a university...college students are notorious for passive-aggressive behavior! (so are adults post-college, so as not to pick on one group...). :-) Anyways, I say this in a teasing manner, as I have had experience working with and teaching students, similar to what you describe.

My question is: is the student passive-aggressive, or does s/he display passive-aggressive behavior? Not just semantics, but there is quite a difference in how you would handle the situation, whether it is the person or the behavior.

When I see adults acting "passively-aggressively", it often looks like two extremes: the person is upset by something, and shuts down, gives the silent treatment, acts like a martyr...all the "passive" types of behavior. Then, when this hasn't resulted in the response they needed, the "aggressive" behavior comes out, which is when others really notice: any type of "acting out" whether it is verbally yelling, physically throwing objects, tantrum, refusing to listen or look at the other person, etc.

I assume the "aggressive" part of the equation is more troublesome than the "passive" part in the classroom (maybe not?).

I would think part of the solution is to help the student learn to notice when they are getting into their "passive" behavior (define that for them with specific examples of their behavior), which means knowing when they start to FEEL the emotions that lead up to the passive behavior. If successful, this could stop the cycle before the aggressive behavior kicks in. The student may have been taught that it is not OK to be angry, frustrated, sad or mad...so they hold it in...until it comes out aggressively. If this is the case, perhaps teaching the student that when s/he notices the negative emotions and feelings, there are healthy ways to acknowledge, accept and share them. All feelings and emotions are normal, they are fleeting, and they change all the time. Many adults have trouble with emotions and feelings, too!!

Could you share more details about what your friend is specifically seeing in the student? How old is the student, BTW? I realize teaching a student about emotions one-on-one in a classroom would be difficult (impossible?), but if you give us more examples, we could brainstorm with you on some ways to help you and the student (and the rest of the classroom!). Oh---and what subject are you teaching that this student (in which this student is in your class)?

June 3, 2008 - 2:01pm


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