I once worked with a couple who were absolutely convinced that their children (3 and 6 years) were super manipulators. They believed that the children had come up with some sort of game plan to get what they wanted.
Thing is, to be manipulative, your child needs to be able to, not only manage and control your behaviour, but to also be capable of predicting how you or others are likely to behave . Developmentally most children are not able to think and relate to others in this way. They are just not there yet.
So what is going on?
Most often than not, what parents consider to be manipulative behaviour, is “simply” a child’s annoying or irritating behaviour that eventually gets them what they want. In Triple P (Positive Parenting Program) this is often referred to as “accidental rewarding” and refers to parents giving in to a child’s demands to avoid his or her behaviour escalating or as a means of appeasing a child’s temper tantrum.
“Calling a child manipulative often substitutes for recognising that we may have reinforced the wrong behaviour in that child.” says Dr Kazdin
So, in a way, yes, your child will behave a certain way to get what he wants but the behaviour isn’t manipulative as it’s not a conscious thought process that she employs before she embarks on her quest for something. All she has done is learn how to get what she wants from you by doing things a certain way or going about getting things a certain way.
Your child gradually learns, with your help, that if at some point he wants your attention and he doesn’t get it, then from that moment on, he will do what he has learned to do (learned from your previous reactions) to get it.
Again, as Dr Kazdin so aptly puts it, “Adults shape the behaviour of children in their response to it. Our children are not manipulating us; in part, they’re expressing what we train them to do.”
Hope that helps in clearing this up.
Don’t forget to have a look at the other Parent Traps which you can find by clicking here.
If you’re stuck and feel unable to manage your child’s behaviour, do contact me as soon as possible by emailing me at firstname.lastname@example.org or calling me on 07850 85 60 66.