“Hey mom, have I told you lately how much I love you? You’re the best!” This from the mouth of your normally sassy 13 year old on a Friday night when you are weary and tired after a really, really long week – and who wants to spend the night with a friend! Or, “Wow Mommy, that dress makes you look skinny,” from your 5 year old who is talking to you and eyeing the cookies on the counter all at the same time.
Are YOU being manipulated by the kids?
Kids, are like any other human and learn how to manipulate and otherwise ‘work’ people very early in life. Take into consideration a case of a 6 month old baby who wails each and every time they see their mama walk into the room because they want to be held. Or, the two year old who throws a temper tantrum at grandma’s house because he knows it’s the most direct route to getting what he wants. Children are smart, and the manipulation of parents by offspring is something that start early in life.
The bad thing is that if the manipulation is not curtailed, or at least recognized by parental figures, it can lead to a lifetime of manipulation. Truth is, there are plenty of adult children who are still working their parents via manipulating tactics that they used when they were young. As with anything in life, if something works – the behavior will be continued. So parents are partly responsible for the manipulation. You taught your child that manipulating YOU works, and therefore they do it. Breaking the habit? Well, that’s not so easy.
For every parent and every family, the manipulation is different. Some kids, use situations such as divorce, or working parents to fuel the manipulation. They realize almost immediately that they can guilt mom and dad through comments or actions and make them feel guilty, thus gaining the reward of what they want. Child experts believe that when there are family troubles such as divorce or changes to the family unit such as with a birth, the manipulation factor becomes even more prevalent. Many kids use outbursts or anger to fuel their manipulation. This is true for the 5 year old who throws himself on the grocery store floor in order to lure mom (who is already worn out) to throw the gummy worms into the cart. At the moment, it’s easier to do whatever it takes to stop the little heathen from acting out than to deal with the problem.
Another common tactic of kids who manipulate is to play helpless or sick in order to get out of doing something. Teenagers often pull the ‘depressed’ card to get mom and dad off of their back. And as mentioned before, flattery is a very common form of manipulation. Another interesting tactic, are those kids that will debate mom and dad and question every single rule, in order to wear down a parents patience so that they will simply give in or give up.
The truth is, that your child isn’t bad or evil, or demented or in need of special counseling because they are manipulative. It’s normal and natural for humans to learn the fine art of manipulation. The trick is recognizing it. As a parent, you have to truly pay attention to your interactions with your kids. Ask yourself whether or not you have taught your child that behaving in a certain way equates to him or her getting his or her way. Obviously, manipulation is easy because for the parents involved it offers them a pretty easy solution to problems in the moment. You say yes, and you don’t have to listen to your teen beg or call you unfair any longer. You buy the gummy worms and your toddler is content. What’s the harm in that, right? Wrong. The rest of the world isn’t going to react well to these tactics and the primary role of a parent is to teach children how to function with the rest of the world. Plus, the manipulation will snow ball and eventually your child will be inadvertently controlling all of your parental actions.
Once you recognize the manipulation, you have to confront your child. And this is the hard part. Since it’s easier to give in – you cannot. You have to remain steadfast. When you say, “The answer is no and I am not discussing it anymore,” you have to mean it and commit. Conversation over. You also have to learn to ignore some of the off handed, mean, and spiteful comments that your child will say to you. Things like, “Dad would let me,” or “You are so mean,” or even, “You are ruining my life.” Let them go in one ear and out the other. Even if they sting, don’t let your child see that they do in the moment. Then later, when things have calmed down, confront them so they understand that you are a human and that your feelings can get hurt as much as anyone else’s.
It is also very important to expose your child when they are attempting to manipulate you. If they claim to have a headache, or that their leg hurts – advise them that you aren’t falling for it. If they start crying or throwing fits, make sure you tell them that you know they are only doing this or that, so they can get their way. If they try to flatter you, explain how much you appreciate the compliments but wish that they could offer them without expecting something in return.
And most importantly, remind your kiddos that it is not the expected or accepted behavior. This helps kids understand that they aren’t going to get away with manipulation with you. The worst thing you can do is recognize manipulation and then make excuses for it! Never make excuses such as your child is tired, that they have a lot of stress on them, that they are emotionally upset, or anything else to mask the manipulation. Call a spade a spade.
And last but certainly not least! Make sure that there is a consequence for your child’s actions. Children who grow up without consequences turn into adults who fail to be responsible for themselves. If you are clear with the expectations then your child should be clear on the consequences to breaking the rules.
If you have been manipulated, don’t fret. Initially, breaking the habit of manipulation is difficult. It takes persistence and perseverance and consistency to change the habit. Within a few weeks however, you should see the results paying off. Once your child realizes that they are unable to get the ‘pay out’ from manipulation – they will try to figure out another way.