As we were talking one day, a father shared his fear with me that his children might be manipulating him. He wanted to know how he could tell and what he could do to avoid it.
It is a great question! The short answer is, “yes.”
But please read on…
Being manipulative is not viewed as a positive character trait.
No parent wants a manipulative child. We all want our children to be honest, direct and free of guile.
To understand manipulation, it helps to clarify the difference between a need and a want.
Children need to love and be loved, to belong, to be valuable, to experiment and to explore.
Children want the latest video game, to stay up late, to eat dessert first, etc.
It is a parent’s job to meet a child’s needs. It is also a parent’s job to empathize with a child’s wants, and to help them weather the disappointment of not always getting their way.
The first nurtures a child’s sense of worth and confidence; the second nurtures her resilience and resourcefulness.
Babies are virtually incapable of manipulation. They cannot be spoiled.
Holding a crying baby helps him by meeting a real need (to be held and comforted).
A baby whose cries are responded to consistently and warmly will cry less often and for less time overall than babies who are left to “cry it out.”
Children will not manipulate unless they have been trained to do so.
How can we avoid unintentionally reinforcing a behavior we don’t want?
- Assume first that your child has legitimate needs that must be met for her to grow and flourish.
- She also has pressing wants that must be heard, so listen with empathy. She needs the process of connecting with you far more than she needs a shiny new toy.
- Children can handle disappointment. If you must say no to a “want,” be sympathetic.
You can say, “It is hard when you can’t have what you want.”
No need to lecture or add things like, “Suck it up!” or “That’s enough crying.” Just listen and continue to be sympathetic.
When she leaves your arms, she will feel better and reassured that even though she isn’t getting what she wants, it’s ok.