by GALTime.com Parenting Pro Michele Borba Ed. D.
Learn the sneaky tactics kids use to get their way-and what to do about them.
"Dad said I could."
"I promise I'll do it tomorrow."
"My stomach hurts; I can't go to school."
Do these manipulative tactics sound rather familiar? I'll bet. As a mom, educational psychologist and former teacher, I know all too well that kids are masters at this particular art: Making excuses, blaming, and fibbing are just a few of the devices they use to get what they want.
The thing is, kids aren't born scheming and strategizing; they learn these "useful" skills. For instance, a 3-year-old discovers that meltdowns are amazingly effective in getting Dad to buy her a toy, and an 8-year-old realizes that guilt-inducing comments ("You don't love me!") can make Mom agree to, well, you name it.
Letting your kid use these moves to get her way is disastrous. For starters, a manipulative attitude hurts a child's ability to manage life's ups and downs. Instead of learning ways to cope (with her fears, frustrations, schoolwork), she'll take the easier path and shirk her troubles. And that stifles her potential for developing self-reliance, resilience, and self-esteem. Then, too, each deception rips a little more from your child's conscience and moral growth. And there's one more issue: a manipulative kid can cause family arguments, make you less trustful of her, and drive you crazy. So stop being manipulated already. Here's how:
Step 1. Recognize your kid's tactics. The are some common manipulation tactics kids use to get what they want. CLICK HERE for a list and mark the tactics that apply to your child:
Step 2. Discover what's causing your child's attitude. There are two parts to this step. First, you need to learn what's behind your kid's manipulative ways. To figure this out, review what you marked in Step 1, then ask yourself if there's a pattern. For example, does he seem to be trying to escape from something unpleasant? Another possibility is that a child is just plain selfish and manipulates others to get what he wants. CLICK HERE for a list of possibilities that may reflect your child's behavior:
Compare your notes with others who know your kid well, then write down your best guess as to the real purpose of her deceptive attitude. (You'll use it in the next step.)
Step 3. Expose the underlying deception. Once you recognize your kid's tactics and motivation behind them, let him know you're onto him. As soon as you see him starting to be manipulative, stop him on the spot (and that means anywhere you are-in a restaurant on a soccer field, in a super market or in your family room).
If he is agitated or losing control, wait until he is calm enough to talk. Then confront your child with his deception and your theory as to why he is using it. Use a calm, firm voice and stick to just the facts. Cut out judgments, lengthy sermons, and admonitions (as in, "You keep this up, you'll get expelled from school".)They're never helpful.
For instance, you might say, "Every time Mrs. Castro carpools, I've notice that you can't seem to find your backpack, so I end up driving you. Is something going on that makes you not want to be in her car?" Or, "You've been pretending that you can't lift your toy box to that upper shelf. But I've seen you stand on a chair to get down that heavy box of video games, so I don't want to hear anymore about being so helpless."
Remember, your goal here is just to have your child hear you out and let him know in no uncertain terms that the attitude will not be tolerated. Make sure that others he tends to manipulate (such as your husband, the babysitter, a day-care worker) are aware of your new policy, so that you're onboard together.
Step 4. Help your child face her fears. If she's using manipulation to avoid a situation that causes her anxiety or fear (say, she pretends to have a cold so she can stay home from school and not take a test), don't be too quick to let her off the hook. If she's capable of the task and the expectation is fair and reasonable, then don't give in; insist that she face her fear.
How? Consider her by acknowledging that you understand how she feels (in this case, that she doesn't like taking tests). Then let her know you believe in her and are confident she can succeed. Tell her, "I know it seems hard, but you can do it." Or, "I know how scared you are, but I'm here if you want to talk about it." Be very clear that you will not rescue her, but will help her cope until she prevails.
Also key: Show her some healthy ways to deal with her anxiety, such as saying a soothing statement (perhaps "Chill out, calm down" or "I can do this") inside her head. Or ask her to think of a place she's been where she feels relaxed (e.g., the beach, her bed, the park). When anxiety kicks in, tell her to close her eyes and imagine that spot while breathing slowly.
Step 5. Set a consequence. Beware: Confronting kids with their deceptions after the fact ("Your teacher last year said you had cheated," or, "Remember when you lied to me about your chores last month?") is useless.For consequences to be effective in curbing bad attitudes, they must be enforced immediately and "fit the crime." And I always think the best consequences are ones that also right the kid's wrong. With that said, here are some consequences that tune up kids' moral attitudes, help them face their wrongdoing, as well as learn that manipulation is not acceptable.
- "If you take something, you will return it to the owner with an apology."
- "If you break something, you will pay for it out of your earned money."
- "If you are dishonest, you owe the person a sincere apology as an admission of your wrongdoing."
Don't expect your child to immediately get the connection between the consequence and the moral-message you're trying to instill. Right now he needs to recognize that anytime he commits an ethical infraction (such as a dishonest, manipulative act), he must make face his wrong and try to make things right. If he doesn't get it at first, he will eventually because you will continue to hold him accountable.
The key to a successful manipulation-free policy is simple: Don't accept any excuses, guilt, pass-the-buck tactics from your kids. Manipulation only works if you allow it to work--so don't.
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