Kids manipulate their parents. It’s part of their normal routine. They learn to use their charms and strengths to get their way and negotiate more power in the family.
Kids watch their parents for a living. It’s their job. It’s what they do. And they know their parents have more power than they do. So, they learn quickly which parent can be manipulated and how much it will take to get that parent to give in.
The real problem with manipulation is when kids use behavioral threats to manipulate you. In other words, “If I don’t get my way, I’m going to make trouble for you.” In this situation, the manipulation becomes a power and control game for the child, and that’s where it gets problematic for parents.
A child might tailor the request specifically to each parent to increase the chance of acceptance. For example, if mom said no to staying up late to watch a movie, maybe dad will say yes because he’s been wanting to watch that movie for a while.
Another form of manipulation kids use is to split their parents. They’ll go to the parent who they think is the weakest link or the one who has wavered in the past in order to gain power. That’s why parents must be very coordinated in what they value and what their decisions are.
Whenever a child uses a power play to get his way, you need to be very careful about how you respond. Keep your emotions in check. You cannot give in and you cannot negotiate while the kid is in that state of mind. If your child raises his voice at you when he hears the word no or yells at you, simply say, “We will not talk about this if you raise your voice. We’ll discuss it later when you have calmed down.”
Here are some steps to take to avoid the issue in the future:
Don’t give them an audience. Kids will play to the house in hopes of getting an advantage. Let them know you will come back and talk with them when they are calmer, then leave the room.
Don’t be the weakest link. You and your spouse must be on the same page. Stay resolved that you will stick to your talking points.
Stop negotiating. If you negotiate this time, you will have to negotiate every time. Stick to the decision you made, and your child can either accept it or not.
Be consistent. Whatever path you take, it must be the same one every time the issue resurfaces. Consistency is probably the most important aspect of parenting.
Hold them accountable. If rules are broken, children must suffer the logical consequences of their actions.
If you have one “pushover parent” then you might want to consider getting your child to request things in front of both parents. Or the easily influenced parent can tell the child they will think about it and discuss the idea with the other parent. Important decisions should be made after both parents have weighed the pros and cons together.
When parents disagree, they should handle it privately. If the consequences change, they should be changed by the parent who delegated them, so that the parents remain empowered and united.
If you have a manipulative child and you decide on certain strategies to manage that manipulative behavior, both parents must be on the same page with their values as well as their plan. Once your child knows the rules of the road, you will not be manipulated, and peace can prevail.