My kids are driving me crazy. They don’t listen to me and are so manipulative. I can’t stand it! My 10 year old pushes and pushes until we have no choice but to capitulate. My teen negotiates relentlessly, ‘If you let me go out tonight, I’ll do my room tomorrow,’ but the room never happens.
Sound familiar? Rest assured…you are not the only frustrated and worn down parent who feels like you constantly have to give in.
How did it get this way?
What is manipulation?
When humans want something, they do everything in our power to get it.
Kids are no different. It is completely natural for them to want what they want and to get it at all costs. And finding ingenious ways to do that is a way to exercise influence over their world (which tends to be run by adults). And let’s give them some credit: initiative, drive, persistence, passion - those are all positive attributes.
Our job is to not only encourage those skills of persistence and passion but also, and this is the hard part, teach the balance of self restraint and respecting boundaries.
What's Really Happening?
IMHO it’s not actually manipulation…it’s just trying to get what they want. And why not?
Kids are smart. And if there is a behavior that has worked to get their way in the past, it seems logical to keep using that same behavior.
Most of the time, our kids get us to back down or give in simply because we are allowing their behaviors to be effective.
I know it doesn’t feel that way. “If she respected me, she’d do her homework before going out,” “If he loved me, he wouldn’t tell me that I am awful and unfair.” Sometimes we generalize their behaviors as a character trait, “If they can look at me and tell me they didn’t steal these things when I know they did, they must be liars and deceitful.”
Fight back against those thoughts. They just want what they want…
The good news? It takes two to tango, but only one to change the pattern.
Your Script in Action
Know your triggers.
Manipulation is often emotional blackmail. Triggers are behaviors that stir up something from your past, send you into fight or flight (even though you may not realize it), and get you to react in a way that is usually not calm and thought-through. They can be a tone of voice, a look, certain things they say. When you are triggered by your child being sad, you’ll be in a better place to say to yourself “It’s ok that she’s sad; she’s building coping skills”.
Think about a situation where you felt manipulated and identify your top 3 triggers. Awareness of them is the first step to calming your response – and not giving in.
Try the Problem Solving Script
“Let’s think about a solution that we both like.”
Your child wants something. That’s understandable and you can probably be empathetic to those desires. However, you have certain boundaries and rules. When you offer to collaborate on a solution you both like, you are showing empathy and respect and asking for your needs to be met as well.
3. Connect First: The Empathy Script
“I know playing video games is a blast; it makes sense that you are angry. And you have to put it away now.”
You might be triggered and not want to be the mean parent or are afraid your child won’t like you. Try expressing empathy for the situation while asking yourself if your job is to make your child happy or to prepare her to cope with life.
GOT A MINUTE?
Our kids are doing their job: they are asking us through their behaviors to be the captain of the ship – to define ourselves clearly – to have boundaries and make the limit clear. Start by practicing one of the above. Just once. And then bite your tongue and see what happens.
Even though they’ll rarely say it out loud, kids need us to have the backbone.
Easier said than done.
You don't have to do it alone. I've been there, and I can help. Grab a free assessment here (or just reply to the email); I’ll help you untangle what’s going on and map out the next steps in transforming your family dynamic.
You got this!