“My kids are driving me crazy! They are so manipulative I can’t stand it!”
Does this sound familiar? Or how about these:
“My middle schooler blackmails me emotionally – he cries that I don’t care about him and that I love his brother more when I ask him to stop playing video games. He’s more difficult than his brother, and we always fight. But, his words make me feel so guilty that I let him continue to play.”
“My teenager negotiates with me relentlessly to get her way. ‘If you let me go to the party tonight,’ she’ll say, ‘then I promise I’ll get all my work done tomorrow.’ I figure, why not? So I let her go. But then, ‘Oops!’ She conveniently forgets all her promises.”
If your kids are like most, they are masterful at finding creative ways to wear you down to get their way. You might think, “My child is just too smart for his own good!”
It’s essential to understand first that it’s natural for kids to want what they want and try to get it at all costs. It’s also natural for us as parents to get frustrated and tired and to give in to these behaviors sometimes—perhaps more often than we’d like to admit. Parents have busy lives and many stressors, and we can only take so much.
Understand that for your child, finding ingenious ways to get what she wants or to avoid what she doesn’t want to do is a way for her to exercise influence in a world run by adults. It doesn’t mean you have to give in, but it’s helpful to realize that it’s developmentally appropriate.
Your child doesn’t have adult power yet. Most kids can’t make major decisions like choosing their neighborhood or school, for example. Having initiative, drive, and passion are positives, even though it doesn’t always feel that way as a parent. But remember that these traits can be a force for good if you can help your child use them properly and balance them with self-restraint and respect for boundaries.
Look at it this way: your kid’s job is to make demands, communicate desires, and try to get their needs met as best they can. Your job is not to get stirred up and give in to those demands. Instead, try to help your child balance the energy of his endless wants with self-control and integrity.
Parents often get frustrated by their kids’ manipulative attempts to get their way. It’s not easy to remain calm and level-headed when you feel that your child is trying to push you around or take advantage of you. You might feel accosted and lose your temper. Or, maybe, you feel disrespected, and you withdraw. Or, you give in to your child’s demands to avoid conflict and keep the peace.
Sometimes you might tighten your grip to show that you’re in control. Unfortunately, this usually invites a power struggle with your child because she starts pushing back. If you tighten your grip more and pull back in response, the endless cycle of manipulation, control, and defiance can go on and on.
As a parent, I understand that it can sometimes be easy to take manipulative tactics personally. You think, “If he loved me, he would never lie to me.” Or, “If she cared about me, she would never try to sneak behind my back to go to her friend’s house.”
And some parents overgeneralize their kids’ behavior. They reason, “If he can look me in the face and deceive me, that means he’s a deceitful person.” But it’s best not to put too much meaning into these behaviors. Instead, treat them as behavior problems rather than moral or character deficiencies.
When we step back, we see that our kids can only manipulate us because we allow their behavior to be effective. Children are human—they want to get their way. Who doesn’t? But they’ve learned over time and through typical behaviors such as emotional blackmail, lying, tantrums, shutting down, negotiating relentlessly, or playing the victim that they can get what they seek. And it works. The danger is when those behaviors become a way of life for your child rather than something that only happens between parent and child.
Remember, kids can only manipulate us if we permit them to. It takes two to tango, but only one to change this pattern.
So how do we help them and ourselves so that we can stop the pattern of manipulation? Here are some tips for parents who are stuck in the manipulation cycle.
You need to recognize manipulative behaviors so that you don’t get sucked in by them. Instinctively, as part of kids’ survival, they come with tools to get what they want and avoid what they don’t want. These tactics work because they trigger a reaction in us. Therefore, pay attention to your triggers.
For example, what if one of your triggers is that you can’t stand to see your child unhappy? If so, your child might try to blackmail you emotionally by acting sad until he gets what he wants. Start by asking yourself if your job is to make your child happy or to help him prepare to cope with life. If it’s the latter, then you can answer with something like the following:
“I’m sorry you’re sad, but you’re still grounded this weekend.”
Other common behaviors include lying, shutting down, and screaming the following: “I hate you!”; “You don’t care about me!”; “That’s not fair!”
Don’t take these statements personally. Respond by saying:
“I know you’re angry with me, but you do need to put your bike away now.”
“I know you don’t see this as fair, but you must go to bed when I tell you to.”
Some kids will play the victim and say things like, “All the other kids’ parents let them hang out past 11:00.” Don’t take the bait. Separate the emotional content from what your child is trying to get. Hear her feelings about being the “only one,” but stand firm on your curfew time.
Parenting Tip: It’s helpful to write down the many different behaviors and words your child does and says to throw you off balance. Prepare for how you will respond next time you hear them.
Related content: Masters of Manipulation: How Kids Control You With Behavior
Triggers are behaviors that upset you and get you to react. They can be a tone of voice, a specific look, or an attitude. Manipulative behaviors, therefore, might set you off. You are less likely to get set off if you know your triggers and prepare for them.
For example, if you have a strong need for approval from your child, then hearing him shout, “I hate you,” might trigger you. You might want peace between the two of you. Instinctively, you might let him off the hook so he won’t be unhappy with you. Recognizing your triggers will help you plan and prepare for how not to let your child push your buttons.
Parenting Tip: Write down your top three triggers and remind yourself often what they are.
Manipulative behaviors are designed to throw you off balance and create self-doubt. Defining your parenting principles will help you when your kids come at you with their ingenious ways to make you unsure of yourself and lose your center. Hold on to yourself by holding on to your parenting principles. Be careful not to let your children’s emotions drive you. Show empathy toward their feelings, but stick to your established principles. Guiding your kids with your well-thought-out principles will generally be better than ensuring everyone feels good.
Parenting Tip: Write down your most important parenting principles and refer to them when you feel like you’re being manipulated.
Don’t get angry at your child for trying to go after what she wants in life. Would you prefer her not to? Be empathetic to her desires and wishes while helping her learn how to get what she wants more directly, honestly, and effectively.
For example, help your son see that not doing what he is asked and ignoring your rules will not be effective in getting him what he wants. On the contrary, it will only get him in further trouble.
Help him learn to ask directly for what he wants. Instead of fighting you, he might know to say, “Mom, it’s difficult for me to get off the computer the second you ask. Could you give me some warning?” Or, “Dad, when you shout at me when I’m not doing what you want, I feel bad. It would help if you asked me more nicely.” Or “I think I’m old enough for a later curfew. Can we come up with a plan together?”
When your child asks for what he wants, listen. Give his requests the consideration they deserve. That does not mean always saying yes, but giving them some honest thought. If your child knows he can come to you directly, he will be less likely to try to get what he wants indirectly.
Have faith that your child is a work in progress and can improve. They might need to learn better ways to manage themselves in life, but they are not morally defective because they try to manipulate us. Their intentions are not to “get us” or make our lives miserable. However, if we believe that’s their intention, we will see them that way.
Believing in our children will help them understand they’re not defective and can change and get what they want more appropriately.
Learn how to soothe yourself when you’re anxious or distressed. Take charge of your emotional health. Don’t give in to your kids’ manipulations so you can feel calmer.
If you need your child to be happy or to validate you, you might inadvertently give in to your children so that you can feel good. But each time you justify their behavior and let them off the hook so that you feel better, they learn that these behaviors are effective and grow to depend on them.
Instead, learn to tolerate your child being upset, which will help them learn better behavior. Managing your calm will free your kids up to learn how to manage their own lives and meet their needs met more successfully.
Kids need limits. Even though they’ll rarely say it out loud, kids need us to have backbones and to set those limits. Of course, they will test those limits and want what they want. But on a deeper level, they want us not to let them get away with developing a bad character. They want us to help them learn how to tolerate limits in life and the frustration that comes with sometimes not getting what they want.
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For more than 25 years, Debbie has offered compassionate and effective therapy and coaching, helping individuals, couples and parents to heal themselves and their relationships. Debbie is the creator of the Calm Parent AM & PM™ program and is also the author of numerous books for young people on interpersonal relations.
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I have four children 15, 8, 5 and 2 living with me. My fifteen year old girl is going through standard teenager hormones and manipulates me a lot which bugs my partner (not her dad) cos he’s not seen her as a sweet little girl, he came in on her life at 12 so hormones were building then. He believes in rules, cisalpine, boundary’s which I agree but I think he’s heavy handed at times where as I pick my battles with my kids otherwise I’d be moaning at them constantly.
My 8 year old isn’t biologically mine, her mother died when she was three and I’ve now been mum since she was four and a half. She has issues with me disaplining her that she doesn’t have with her dad. If I ask her to do something she refuses or moans at me for such a long time I give up. Dad asks her she straight away does it and no questions. I have some understanding because it was only daddy for nearly two years before I met him so she’s only had daddy to parent her.she is very manipulative and lies a lot, almost naturally. She does it mainly to get out of trouble, but I have explained to her that if she lies and I find out she’s done “the crime” I’m more angry and disappointed in her and if she tells me the truth and owns up I at least feel proud of her for not liking. Sometimes it’s just blatant for no reason, in fact the lie needn’t have been told cos she wasn’t in the wrong.
My five year old, also not mine biologically, is a nightmare. She’s manipulative, lies, disrespectful, aggressive and down right spiteful. She bully’s her older sister (8 year old) bullies her little brother too (2 yr old) although not as often. She is great at school as far as I’m aware no real issues but omg when she gets home even when it’s a good day she starts, almost like she thinks “I’ve not got anything to do so I feel like causing trouble” she was in the car today saying “stop it, stop punching me, that hurts” I look behind me and she’s looking down so didn’t notice still saying this but her brother wasn’t doing anything at all but staring out the window. She was upstairs earlier, came down sobbing saying her sister had stamped in her, I asked to see the mark and she refused (cos it didn’t happen). Some of it is learnt behaviour cos I caught her sister (now 8) doing the same kinds of things to get her in trouble.
This is now happening with my little boy, I see him doing the same things and it’s driving me mad that I can’t stop the cycle cos no one listens to me.
I’ve tried talking about why, better ways to handle things, explaining how it’s affecting the other person and how people around her are feeling towards her, I’ve tried explaining how it would make her feel. I’ve tried bribery (a treat for good behaviour), I’ve tried the step, I’ve tried taking things away from her, I’ve tried sending her to bed earlier (5 mins early for each bad behaviour) and although I NEVER smacked my older daughters I have smacked her cos I’m at my wits end. Nothing works...help me please, only thing left that I can think is taking her to the Dr’s but she’s so lovely when she wants to be. The rhyme “there was a little girl who had a little curl right in the middle of her forehead. When she was good she was very very good but when she was bad she was horrid” that’s her to a “t”
This comment might be a tad late but I felt I should share my opinion on your situation. I'm not a mother, but I am a 17 year old daughter who was also lazy, manipulative, controlling disrespectful, horrible and quite the trouble maker in my youth (from 13-16). There were times where I'm positive my mum hated me too, and to be honest, my mum could've wrote this comment about me. I spent my time drinking, taking drugs and having sex with people 3-10 years my senior. I drank and took drugs on school nights, before school and even during school. My mum obviously didn't approve of the way I was behaving, but the more she tried to discipline me, the harder I rebelled. Therapy and interventions from other adults like teachers and family members only sent me further into a frenzy because of my utter contempt towards authority figures and anyone who tried to tell me what to do. I don't want to say it's normal because it's far from normal, but adolescence is the time when we're trying to figure ourselves out, our sexuality, feelings and our place in the world and it doesn't help that we have our hormones raging out of control. I finally let go of my rebellious persona once I left school, my mum had stopped bothering trying to stop my dangerous and destructive behaviours, and all those things I found so fun didn't seem so fun anymore. With a generation rampant with depression, anxiety, eating disorders and personality disorders, it makes our teenage years that much more confusing and unpleasant. My advice is set boundaries if possible, try and find out if your daughter is suffering from any sort of mental illness or if she's experienced something traumatic as a lot of teenagers act out in this manner after a traumatic event, and I know this isn't a popular opinion, but let her be who she is because sooner or later she will grow out of it - I did, and so did dozens of other teenagers in my school and hundreds, if not thousands, of teenagers who went through similar behavioural issues worldwide.
Keep your spirit up, just remember nothing lasts forever and your daughter will thank you later on for setting the rules and boundaries you did, and she'll forever be thankful that you tried to reach her. Xx
All of our comments are moderated before publishing, so
there can be a delay between when a comment is written and when it appears on
our site.Thanks for your question.
I can understand your concern.
Your son is capable and you want him to meet his full potential, but for
whatever reason he is not performing as well as you would have hoped. It could
be that he is not focusing in class, not studying enough, or the right material,
or it could be that he is simply not a good test taker. Whatever the reason, if
you are coaching him on ways to be successful, like good study habits and
asking questions if he does not understand something, you are doing your part.
Debbie Pincus also wrote this great article that may be helpful for you as
well, https://toms.thruways.com/coaching/index.cfm?CFID=6407d3ff-2b3e-4a0f-9f3e-473edd2eab88&CFTOKEN=0&p=case-psl&customerID=6623687&caseID=42234&do=view&r=success. Ultimately though, your
son’s grades are his responsibility at his age. Punishing him is probably not
the best approach. And we would agree that it is counterproductive to take away
enriching and positive activities like sports for not doing well on a revision.
If anything, I would try and find positive reinforcements for doing his best.
Especially because you really don’t know if there is something else going on
that is impeding his academic performance. We know this is a difficult thing to
be dealing with. Thank you for reaching out. Take care.
I have been in a relationship for the past 18 months with a women that has an 8 year old girl. I myself have a 6 year old daughter and they are good friends. Since the early stages of our relationship I noticed that her daughter doesn't respect adults to the point where you have to ask her 3-5 times to do something, doesn't clean up after herself, isn't good at sharing and uses crying as a form of manipulation to get her way. In the beginning her mom would hate it when she cried would beg the daughter not to cry. Besides this we've been dealing with her ex taking her custody time and showing up unannounced to again interrupt her time with her daughter. I spoke with him and his sister tonight and they told me that if she is upset or crying and doesn't want to go to her moms or wants to leave then it's ok to allow an 8 year old to dictate where and when she comes and goes between her parents. The daughter is extremely intelligent and knows the power she has over both her parent when she turns on the water works. I'm having a hard time accepting that it's healthy to allow an 8 year old to control when and where she visits regardless of the pre-arranged visitation schedule. The father and sister think it's perfectly normal to not allow her to come to her moms house if the 8 year old gets upset and cries and doesn't want to go. This is causing an issue with my girlfriend and me and also very upsetting to my daughter when she is looking forward to spending time with her good friend. Besides that, they told me tonight that whenever my name is brought up, the 8 year old gets tense or has anxiety. I guess I'm the bad guy since I'm trying to instill some type of discipline and structure for her to respect authority, be a good friend by sharing and not being selfish and to be clean and organized and pick up after herself. I've never laid a hand on her and would never do that and have only raised my voice when it's the 3-5 time her mom has asked her to do something and I finally speak up and say listen to your mom. I would love any advice or insight on any of these subjects.
differences are quite common in most families, and it can be even more
challenging in a blended family with issues like custody and visitation
schedules. I hear how frustrated you are with the behavior you are
witnessing with your girlfriend’s daughter, and how it is not only affecting
your relationship with your girlfriend, but your daughter as well.
Something we often find effective in this type of situation is to work together
with your girlfriend to develop standard house rules which apply to everyone in
the house, and to have the biological parent be in charge of enforcing those
rules. You might find our article, https://www.empoweringparents.com/article/my-blended-family-wont-blend-help-part-i-how-you-and-your-spouse-can-get-on-the-same-page/, helpful as you move forward. Take care.
The start of the teen years can be a tough time, for kids
and parents alike. It’s not unusual for kids to go from being kind and loving
one minute to angry and pushing you away the next minute, as Janet Lehman
explains in her article https://www.empoweringparents.com/article/adolescent-behavior-changes-is-your-child-embarrassed-by-you/. He’s starting a
developmental stage called individuation, a time when a child starts to pull
away from his family towards adult independence. The unfortunate thing is, for
some kids, this involves verbal disrespect and a lot of attitude. Try to
stay focused on the positives and set limits around the negative behaviors you
may be seeing. If you are concerned there could be an underlying issue affecting
your son’s behavior, talk with his doctor. S/he would be able to talk with you
about these concerns and could possibly rule out any underlying issues. We appreciate you
writing in. Take care.
I can hear how distressed this situation makes you. It
can be tough when a parent makes a decision you don’t understand or you
disagree with. Because we are a website aimed at helping parents develop more
effective ways of addressing acting out behavior, we are limited in the advice
we can offer you in this situation. Ultimately, the amount of time a parent allows
his child to spend with someone else is his decision. How you respond it is up
to you. I wish we could be more helpful. Good luck to you moving forward. Take
Mom needs your help
I hear you. It can be tough to know where to start when
there are so many acting out, defiant behaviors going on. You may find the
article “My Child’s Behavior Is So Bad, Where Do I Begin?” How to Coach Your Child Forward by Carole Banks helpful for deciding what behavior to focus on
first. We appreciate you writing in and wish you the best of luck moving
forward. Be sure to check back if you have any questions. Take care.
Mom needs your help
I hear you. It can be tough when it seems as though your child just keeps
making the same bad choices over and over again. Many parents I have worked
with have shared similar frustrations that their child acts great to earn back
a privilege and then acts out again once they have it back. Truthfully, it may
seem like you’re going around and around: taking a privilege, letting her earn itback, and then taking it away again when she acts
out. This rehearsal and repetition
will actually help your daughter learn that all behavior has consequences. It
may help to know that the behavior you describe is normal for someone your
daughter’s age. As Janet Lehman explains in her article Adolescent Behavior Changes: Is Your Child Embarrassed by You?. Normally well behaved
kids can become defiant and rebellious when they hit adolescence. I can
understand the concern you have around the inappropriate conversations she’s
been having. It’s OK to limit her access to social media whenever possible. You
might also consider monitoring her when she’s online. Hang in there. I
know this can be a very challenging time. Be sure to check back and let us know
how things are going. Take care.