How to deal with a manipulative child?

A sad manipulative girl wanting what she wants

TODAY this is no idle question. Reporting on the remarks of a professor at a seminar on the role of children and parents, The Toronto Star said: “There is an alarming increase in the number of ‘power drunk children’ in North America who dominate and manipulate their parents’ lives.”

Now, what about your home? Notice that this professor did not say that the parents want it to be so, or that they admit that the children are in control.

But if children “dominate and manipulate their parents’ lives,” who is really head of the house?

For instance, by screaming and by temper tantrums children may get their wishes. No, maybe not every time, but often enough so that they keep doing it.

In some families children have virtual veto power over what the parents do, even dictating when the parents come and go.

Whether this is the situation in your home or not, its general prevalence compels every family to give it some thought.

Why does this problem develop in the first place? How can it be overcome or prevented in your home, and with what results?

Manipulative children behavior, Why?


The first step in a child’s becoming “head of the family” may be taken when parents try to bribe him into behaving, such as, ‘If you are good at the store, I’ll buy you some candy.’ 

No, they would not merely be giving him a gift, something that might show him their love and generosity.

By this type of bribery they are actually putting their youngster in a position of control, catering to him. Do you think that a child does not sense this?

Many a youngster thus learns how he can control his parents, by a form of blackmail. One boy said, “I get what I want by keeping mother thinking I’ll be bad.”

Yes, he controls her. ‘But,’ someone might think, ‘is he not learning to behave?’

On the contrary, this boy added: “Of course, I have to be bad often enough to convince her she is not paying me for nothing.” So, who is really in control?

Another factor is the influence of the child’s environment. He may see other children bossing their parents, so he tries it.

If you are a parent, at the first signs of your child’s efforts in this direction be alert to act with firmness and yet love, thus helping him to see that he is not the head.

In Ulster, Ireland, many children are drawn into rock-throwing gangs that wield considerable power in school and in the neighborhood.

This easily spreads to the home; they want to control there too. A recent report on the situation in Ireland said:

Some parents seem to be frightened of their children. ‘He’s more powerful than a man,’ said the mother of one 11-year-old boy. ‘That’s why I took him to see the head doctor. He frightened me.’”

Additionally, a youngster may try to be “boss” in the home because he is confused as to who otherwise is in control.

Perhaps his parents argue and scream over what will be done.

Father shouts that he is the boss, only to have mother yell back rebelliously and sarcastically. Just where does that leave the child?

He may put the friction to use, playing one parent against the other, and thus manipulate things in such a way that the child is, to some degree, the head.

What to Do?


While the factors and problems causing children to usurp headship are many, unquestionably the results are bad.

The child is not happy—he suffers and his development is damaged.

An Israeli report showed:

The power these young despots wield within the family apparently leaves them with anxieties about encountering a harsher reality outside the home. . . . They fear that they will have no one to turn to in a moment of need.”

What is the answer, then? The youngster in the family should be part of an arrangement in which the parents are in control of family matters.

The father should not to be a despot or a harsh boss, but a loving and considerate of both his wife and his children.

Obviously, for a child to sense and respect this, the father must shoulder his responsibilities.

Also, the mother should regularly manifest her regard for and cooperation with the arrangement.

The value of both parents working at this can be appreciated from what occurs when they do not.

The book Between Parent & Child mentions homes where the father shirks his responsibility and the mother is “the last court of appeal in all matters of importance.”

The husband in such a home seems to avoid being the head of the house. He openly refers to his wife as ‘the boss.’ When his children ask him for a decision, his response usually is ‘Ask mother.’" 

In such homes, children grow up with little respect or admiration for men. 

Both boys and girls see father through mother’s eyes: a sweet, but ‘half-baked’ boy, a good-natured blunderer.  

Yes, the father needs to direct and share in the upbringing of his children. Is that so in your family?

Does this mean that a child is given no room for personal development or expression? Not at all.

But parents can give him some responsibility and independence in such a way that he still knows he is not the head.

Mother could ask, not, ‘What do you want for breakfast?’ but, ‘We are having cereal today. Which of these three do you want?’ 

So the child is given a measure of independence and choice but at the same time is made aware that he is not the head of the family.

Discipline


For children to learn that they are not the head of the house requires discipline. Some parents object to that. And you can be sure that many children do.

Still, note the comments of child psychiatrist Wayne Weisner:

Children need discipline in order to become civilized. They even want it. They accept it most readily from parents who are firm, but always fair. Both parents must be in total agreement on what the discipline should be, otherwise the child’s radar picks up the disagreement, and an implicit invitation to disobey."

Admittedly, there are many homes where the children are the head, dictating to and controlling their parents.

But those homes are not happy. The parents are not happy. The children are not happy, nor will they be.

The greatest success and happiness result when a loving father exercises control in conjunction with a respectful, cooperative wife.

This arrangement provides for the secure climate and firm guidance with which children best develop into balanced, mature adults.

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