Manipulative children are smarter than their age, they manipulate people and situations to get what they want. This can be attention, their favorite toy or food. Thus, you have to know the signs of a manipulative child and ways to deal with them if you feel your children are manipulating you to get what they want.
Manipulation in children can come in all forms, it can be verbal or through actions. Some children can accuse you of not being loving and caring enough to make you feel guilty or do something you don’t want to do.
This post will expose the signs and symptoms of a manipulative child and also give you effective tips on how you can deal with it or manage this behavior.
Signs Of A Manipulative Child
Well, before we give you the signs of a manipulative child, let’s define what manipulation is, so that we are clear and on the same page.
Manipulation is the use of skillful tactics to gain control over someone (parents) or make someone give in to your demand.
The act of manipulation is not straightforward, it is subtle and this makes it difficult to know if a child is trying to manipulate you. But there are few ways you can know if your child is manipulating you.
So below are signs that can tell you if your child is manipulative or not.
1. Quick emotional outburst
Is your child swift in having emotional outburst when you say “no”? If yes, then your child may be manipulating you.
Emotional outburst includes going out of control, sudden outburst, crying, rudeness, and even aggression.
They put on these behaviors to confuse you and make you oblige to their requests.
2. Temper tantrums
This is another telltale signs of a manipulative child. This situation is characterized by intense anger for a short period or until they get what they want.
Some kids may even resort to yelling “I hate you” or saying things like “you’re the worst parent ever”. Some may even go as far as saying “I don’t want to live with you anymore”.
Some kids even lay on the floor of the store and cry out loud until they get that expensive toy that they want.
Temper tantrums are quite common in children but you have to discourage this behavior if it is frequent and your child throws tantrums over little things.
3. Telling lies
Children can play the victim or resort to lying to get what they want from their parents. Some kids can even go as far as playing the victim so others think that their parents are not good enough.
This act can force parents into providing more than is necessary for their children.
If you allow this behavior continue without discouraging it, it can progress into:
- Guilt tripping your or someone to do something for them.
- Making you doubt your own judgement (gas-lighting).
- Using emotional blackmail.
What Causes A Child To Be Manipulative?
Kids learn manipulation from an early age due to many factors or reasons. We will discuss some of the reasons why children become manipulative so you avoid doing them.
1. Lack of love and attention
If your child feels that you don’t love him/her, they can turn to manipulation just to get your attention. If your child knows that throwing tantrums is the only way he can get your attention, he will keep doing so.
So, despite your schedule or how tired or occupied you may be, always give your child attention, and make sure you show them and let them know that you love them.
No matter what you are doing, if your child needs your attention, give it to them or gently tell them that you are occupied and will attend to them shortly.
Speak to them in a loving and gentle tone.
2. Buy them toys and gifts
You may be going through some financial issues or saving up for a particular goal, or even trying to make ends meet. Well, despite all, it is good to buy your kids toys or gifts once in a while.
If they see their friends or classmates with toys or gifts and they don’t have, and they always get a “no” when they ask you for something, they will result to manipulation to get what they want.
If they ask for something and you can afford it then, please do so, if you can’t, calmly explain to them and promise them to get it soon.
3. Being quick to react
Learn to listen calmly and respond gently, overreacting at any little thing will scare your child, and this can push them into telling lies.
If your child knows that speaking the truth will always get him punished and screamed at, he will resort to lying just to avoid these.
So, respond calmly, don’t react. And if your child speaks the truth and what he does deserves punishment, you can tell him that you are letting him go free because he said the truth but this shouldn’t repeat itself.
With this, your child will be discouraged from telling lies to avoid punishment or manipulate you.
4. Always be there for your children
When your child knows that you are always there and they can count on your love and understanding, they won’t always fall back on manipulative tactics.
When you are not there for your kids, they will rely on manipulative behaviors. Kids can pick up manipulation for very silly reasons like:
- When they are feeling afraid, overwhelmed, or frustrated
- When they need help expressing their feelings
- When they need more attention from their parents, etc.
Ways To Deal With a Manipulative Child
1. Set some goals
Once you notice any of the signs of a manipulative child in your kid, you have swing into action. In order to achieve any target, including disciplining your child, you have to set goals. If you feel your child’s repetitive behaviors are aimed at manipulating you, you have to set specific goals for your child.
This is an example of how to set goals for your child. If he/she demands for an expensive toy or wants anything, tell him/her to wait for 7 days patiently.
This alone can help the child to pause and even control the urge for an outburst. This will do wonders for your child’s temperament and reduce manipulation and the need for immediate gratification.
This will also teach them the act and feeling of delated gratification.
2. Produce an action plan
Creating an action plan will help you teach your child how to request for something. Your child will follow this plan whenever they need something or your attention.
It is important you consider your family values and even personality traits you desire in your children when creating this action plan.
Below is an example of an action plan, you can change or customize this for your child/children.
When you request for something, stay silent for at least 1 minute
If you don’t receive a response, wait for another 60 seconds before asking again
Give reasons why you want your request to be accepted
Then listen to the other person’s reasons
An action plan like this one above will reduce manipulative behaviors if you enforce it and stick to it.
Put it on a wall or the refrigerator where the child can see it always and remind themselves of appropriate ways of asking for things without manipulating anyone.
This will even help in modifying the behavior of your child in a realistic and quick way.
3. Use distractions
Another way to manage manipulative behaviors is to distract your child. This will help in most situations when your child is faced with the issue of delayed gratification.
Keep a few distractions nearby that fit the sensory modalities of your child. A good distraction can be anything that your child finds interesting and pays attention to it for a few minutes.
It can even be an image of their favorite cartoon character.
Visual distracters are not the only tools that can be used, you can also use auditory distracters like the sound of a bird or a piece of a calming music.
You can also use tactile distracters which include living or non-living objects. Your touch is also a powerful distracter, its warm feeling can make your child gentle.
Gently take the hands of your child and look into their eyes, and speak gently to them.
You can combine any of these tips above to calm a manipulative child.
4. Show good examples
If you want your child to behave well, you have to be a role model. Humans learn most of their behaviors by observing others, this is what they call social learning.
An effective strategy you can use to discourage manipulative behavior in your kids is to project yourself as a model for them to follow.
So, from your behavior, you can show your child how to be patient when they need something.
You can make them do a role play in front of other children to teach them the appropriate way to ask and wait for something. Another way to do this is to narrate a story or show them a video that has lessons on manipulative behavior and its management.
Make sure that the characters in the video and stories do not resemble that of your child’s identity so that your child won’t blame you or feel shamed while the teaching is on-going.
5. Practice guided participation
You have to participate in the correction and instructions you give your children. This is known as guided participation, and it is the process where parents and children learn something together.
You can read a story together or even engage in role-playing. Role rehearsal is also a good option as this form of psychodrama will help you and child express your feelings, have insights about each other, encourage good behavior in your child, and even help him/her practice good behavior.
And this is also an opportunity for you to view the world from your child’s perspective.
You and your child should engage in physical activities like drawing, dancing, and also meditation and mindfulness activities.
While doing this, make sure your child speaks and act more than you while you listen patiently and try not to react. Your patience and choice of words will go a long way in teaching your child how to behave even down into their adulthood.
6. Place clear rules and regulations
You need to set clear and flexible rules and regulations for all members of the family. These rules don’t have to be strict that it restricts your child’s thoughts and actions.
These rules should only make them know what they can do and what they can’t do.
Examples of such rules for your children are given below:
- You can ask for an extra snack only once a day
- If you ask for an extra snack more than twice a day, you can’t make any other request for an extra snack until a week later
- If you ask for an extra snack twice a day, you can only ask for an extra snack after 2 days.
These rules are clear and simple and they do not stop your children from expressing their desires. Place these rules in the dining area or where your kids can see and read them easily.
This will reduce the chances of tantrums and manipulative behaviors, it will also teach them how to be responsible.
How Do I Stop My Child From Being Manipulative?
The tips we’ve given above, especially that on the causes of manipulation in children will help you discourage manipulative behaviors in your children.
However, here are some ways to stop your children from manipulating you.
- Always respond gently to what your kids do instead of reacting. One thing that will help you remain calm is to see your child’s manipulative behavior as a way of getting their needs met instead of a deliberate act to annoy you.
So it is best to approach their manipulative behaviors with curiosity instead of being judgmental and reactive.
- Don’t allow yourself to be blackmailed emotionally. Don’t be afraid of telling your child “no”. You will even be training them for the world when they hear “no” occasionally.
When you are being emotionally blackmailed by your child, remain calm, validate their feelings, and don’t barter. If you stick to this, manipulation will be a thing of the past.
- You and your partner should be united. Kids are very smart, from a young age, they know which of their parents is easy and willing to bend the rules for them, and they also know which of their parents is challenging and is not willing to bend the rules for them no matter what.
One classic form of manipulation kids do is playing one parent against another. You and your partner have to be united and have one voice and one decision when handling the kids to avoid hearing words like this: “But dad said I could”.
There is also need for a unified approach, you can calmly let your children know that “dad and I make decisions together, so don’t come to any of us separately with a request that needs a quick answer. You will not get a quick reply until Dad and I discuss it.
- Hold your children accountable. Place rules and boundaries to enforce your family guidelines and also hold your kids accountable for their manipulative behaviors and poor decisions.
Doing this will teach your children that this type of behavior is not acceptable. You can set a consequence and an incentive to encourage your child to do well.
To be successful at doing this, you have to choose a meaningful consequence, for instance, you can’t take away your child’s phone and permit him to chat from his laptop. The consequence is useless.
The consequence should motivate him to do better and it should be clearly spelt out as the rule itself. Write the consequence and display it like the rule.
Also, don’t forget to add an incentive for following the rule. A one-sided approach will not make your kid excited in keeping to the rule. Incentives will help you get your child’s input.
- Don’t negotiate and if you are negotiating with your children, you have to stop it. The rule is that if you give in, your child will continue to hold you hostage.
So learn to say what you mean and mean what you say.
Give clear expectations for areas your child questions and don’t waver. As time goes on, your child will stop manipulative behaviors when they see that they can’t get their way with manipulation.
No matter how you feel like you’ve lost total control of your life and your children call the shots instead, you can use the tips in this post to get back your home. Go through this signs of a manipulative child again to understand them more better.