In Parenting Help

Is Your Child Manipulative?


As a parent, you may sometimes feel your child’s main focus in life is getting his or her own way and being Manipulative.  Smart children are always on the lookout for ways to manipulate their parents to get what they want. Even children as young as toddlers know how to use their charm to wrap mommy and daddy around their little finger.

The word “manipulate” means to influence or control others in a skillful yet unscrupulous way. By learning how to manipulate people, children exercise their influence in the world around them. Children don’t have the same power as adults when it comes to making major decisions like where to live, what school to attend, how to spend finances, etc. They can, however, use their manipulating ways to influence situations in their own little world for personal benefit and gain.

Part of your job as a parent is to teach your children to have a healthy balance between wants and needs. At the same time, you should clarify what kind of behavior is acceptable and what is not in communicating their desires. Contrary to what your kids may think, your role as a parent isn’t to coddle and please them. By maintaining parental authority with love, you’ll be more successful in raising mature children who grow into responsible adults.

Understanding Manipulation

The dictionary definition of manipulation is “the skillful handling, controlling or using of something or someone.” Although this doesn’t sound so pleasant, it’s exactly what many children do with their parents.

According to family psychologist David Swanson “kids have plenty of reason to manipulate their parents. They do it to garner love and attention, to cover their butts, to get what they want, and to feel powerful. And the main reason they do it is it works.”

Manipulation is not a trait that’s naturally ingrained in a child; it’s a behavior that children learn early on in childhood and perfect as the years go by. Few, if any, kids are born manipulators. In many cases, permissive parents and parents who don’t have the same parenting standard make it easy for children to manipulate situations and succeed.

Children often begin using their charms and wiles on parents from the time they are small. Over time, they recognize what techniques work and what don’t. The more you give in to a child’s machinations, the better manipulator he or she will become. By the time manipulative children grow into adolescence, they may have become a master of the trade.

While some types of manipulation may seem harmless, it’s not a good idea for parents to encourage this behavior. Manipulative behavior can easily transform a sweet and charming child into a little monster who uses threats of bad behavior to get his way. When used inappropriately, this behavior can cause all kinds of trouble and disrupt a happy household. Manipulating can become a power game with children trying to take control.

Why are Children Manipulative?

Not all children resort to manipulation to get what they want. If you’re giving your kids time and attention and are making an effort to provide them with a happy home environment, they may see no need to resort to this type of behavior. Children and teens who have a good relationship with their parents can simply discuss their requests openly without resorting to threats, anger or tears.

In contrast, if you spend little time with your kids and are barely aware of what’s happening in their lives, they may feel the need to fend for themselves in getting what they desire. By digging deeper into your parenting style and relationship with your children, you can get a better idea of where their behavior is coming from. This gives you an opportunity to adjust your and their lifestyle for the better.

As a parent, you should be concerned about your kids manipulative behavior, especially if it’s getting out of hand. There may be legitimate reasons why your kids are acting this way. A child that’s constantly trying to manipulate his or her way out of school may be facing problems with bullying. Children who don’t want to go to bed on time may be having nightmares or have a fear of the dark.

If your teen’s manipulative behavior is only towards you and not your spouse, maybe you are being too lenient in granting his requests and need to stand up to your convictions more. By finding the cause of your child’s behavior, you can work on resolving issues that could bring manipulation to a halt.

How to Handle Manipulative Behavior

By setting home rules and a behavior standard for your children, you may be less susceptible to manipulation. Such rules put boundaries and restrictions on a child’s behavior and requests. If your home rule says no TV watching until homework is done, your child is less likely to demand to watch a favorite TV show before doing homework. In like manner, rules on driving, home chores, curfew, etc. help restrain young people from demanding requests that go contrary to the standard that’s already been established.

Naturally, as parents, you can make exceptions to your rules depending on your child or teen’s overall behavior. If your teen has proven himself trustworthy and dependable and is doing well in school, you may decide to lift curfew for a special event or give him extra driving privileges. By not giving in to manipulation, parents discourage manipulative acts.

Manipulative behavior can be manifested in a number of different ways ranging from sweet and agreeable conduct to lying, emotional outbursts, threats and even blackmail. The danger of giving in to such conduct is that these behaviors may become the norm in your child or teen’s life. Once children establish a pattern of manipulating to get their way, it can be difficult for them to stop.

If you find yourself in a manipulative web and are looking for ways to get out, these tips may help:

  • Recognize when your kids are trying to manipulate you and don’t cater to their whims. Know what type of behavior gets to you most and be on guard against your kids using this behavior to get what they desire.
  • Decide what parenting principles and values are important to you and stick with them, no matter what. Your kids may try to attack your principles if these are getting in the way of what they want. By sticking to your convictions, you make these tactics less effective in your household.
  • Listen to your children’s requests and give them time to express their opinions and views. Your kids should know you are genuinely concerned for their wants and needs. You may not always agree, but you can discuss situations in a calm, rational and honest manner.
  • Don’t overreact or get angry with your children for going after what they desire. Do teach them, however, that there’s a right way and wrong way to present their requests. Explain to your kids that manipulation will not move your hand on their behalf and that you will not be pushed, coerced or blackmailed into granting requests that you feel are not in your child’s best interest.
  • Don’t assume that your children’s intentions are always wrong just because they try to manipulate a situation in their favor. Most tweens and teens are still learning how to make good decisions and manage their lives. Look for the good and stay positive in how you view your children.

You may not be perfect parents, but your love for your kids is what will eventually win their hearts. Children and teens need parental help and guidance to do what’s right. They may balk at your “interfering” with their lives in the beginning. Over time, however, they will come to appreciate your input in keeping them on the right track.

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