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Sulking

What should you do with a child who's pouting?

I don't know how to deal with Paige these days," my friend Allison confided. "She's always pouting about something." Allison admitted she sometimes gave in to her 5-year-old or would coax her out of a stubborn mood just to keep peace. Frankly, Allison said, she was tired of being manipulated by a preschooler.

Actually, Allison's admission, much to her surprise, was the first step in dealing with this parenting problem. She recognized that the problem existed.

While it might seem hard to believe, a preschool-age child doesn't usually set out to manipulate a parent; he or she resorts to pouting when other communication has failed. Once a child discovers sulking enables her to get her way or gain attention, it becomes the tool she employs.

"At this stage of development, a child sees her interaction with her parents mainly as communication, not manipulation," explains Dr. William Sears. In short, a child who manipulates with whining or pouting is stuck in an immature form of communicating what she wants. Sears cautions parents: Instead of squelching these manipulative techniques, help a child communicate in an acceptable way.

4 Steps to Better Communication
Here are four steps to help your child develop more mature communication.

  1. Step away from your feelings. Dealing with a sulking, pouting child is frustrating. When you feel frustrated, step back from the situation. Many parents sense a power struggle when one was never intended. It's hard to have a tug-of-war when only one side is pulling a rope.
  2. Step into her shoes. What is your child really after? Is it about power or is there some other outcome she desires? Children have limited negotiating skills?perhaps pouting is the only option available. Can you give her another opportunity to express herself constructively? Does she know you have taken her wishes into consideration, that your decision isn't just an assertion of your power?
  3. Step onto her side of the fence. When our children display negative emotions, we sometimes step to the other side of an invisible fence, and the picture becomes Parent vs. Child. Try thinking of the struggle in terms of Parent and Child vs. The Conflict. How can the two of you resolve the current problem and move on?
  4. Step through the process. Teach your child how to express herself by offering her other options, including prayer: "Honey, I know you're upset because you want to go with me today. But pouting won't change things. Use words to tell me how you feel. You might say, 'I am so unhappy! I wish I could go with you, Mom!' Then I would say, 'I wish you could come too, but not today.' When we're away from each other, I miss you, too. Let's pray that God will comfort us when we have to be apart."


All of us want our feelings to be respected. Children are no different. By teaching your child to express her feelings in a constructive way, you are giving her the tools she will need to handle adult conflict in a healthy manner.


Barbara Curtis
Petaluma, CA


Read more articles that highlight writing by Christian women at ChristianityToday.com/Women

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