A couple of years ago, my eldest completely lied to me about something. She tried to cheat during a board game. I had evidence to the contrary, but she blew up and had a meltdown. I chalked it up to her being tired.
The next time she did it, I was on high alert. This is one of those manipulative child behavior symptoms we as parents need to train ourselves to spot. Children who lie and manipulate must be handled before they become teenagers with lying and manipulation. Even worse, before they become adults.
So, you’re here to learn how to deal with a lying, manipulative child. Emotional manipulation of a child isn’t the answer, though we commonly see it when parents split up. In fact, many a manipulative child after divorce has sprouted, and I’ll cover all that below.
I’ve received many messages lately that made me feel that manipulative child behavior is a hot topic these days, so let’s get right down to it.
How do you know if your child is manipulating you?
It doesn’t take an expert to figure out if your kid is displaying manipulative child behavior symptoms. Like me, you might not notice it the first time. Also, it could be a one-off. My youngest has lied to me to avoid getting in trouble. When I sat her down and said it’s important to tell Mommy the truth no matter what, she took that to heart.
You might say she’s my good one, but I think all kids are mostly good. They just lose their way. Children from young to teen can only manipulate you if you let their behavior become effective. Thus, you’ll want to spot the signs of manipulation so you can take control.
What are the signs of manipulation?
In order to deal with a lying, manipulative child, you’ve got to spot the 5 signs of manipulation.
1. The Badger
I think every mama knows this one. Your child asks for the same thing over and over and over and over and over. Even though your response is “no,” they still press on. This one is the easiest one for me to deal with since I always hold firm with my “no.” It’s annoying initially, but keep tight to your “no,” and your child will stop the badgering.
2. The Arguer
So you’ve said “no,” but your child starts an argument to change your mind. You can certainly listen to what your child says to be sympathetic, but you should not re-engage in the already closed topic because you’ve decided on it. Continue to stay firm; eventually, your child will tire of discussing it. Yes, even when a meltdown ensues! Stay the course!
3. The Non-Responder
You’ve asked your child to put their things away, and they say nothing. They do nothing at all. Ah, the non-responder! When my eldest gets mad at me sometimes, this is how I’m treated. Even if I’ve asked nicely, suddenly, I’ve got a mute and perhaps deaf child on my hands.
This tactic is one of a manipulative child or one attempting to be. Don’t let it lie, though. Confront them politely, “Please show a sign that you have heard my request.”
4. The Consequence-Free -Spirit
Part of this is our fault of us as parents. You need to dole out a consequence sooner rather than later. And it needs to match your child’s behavior. Your child knows already when you’re bluffing when you say you’re taking away their tablet for a week. She knows she will get her ice cream anyway, even if she doesn’t eat all her veggies at dinner.
So, if this is your consequence-free spirit, you’ve got to start putting into action those consequences. If you tell your child to stop the behavior or “insert consequence here,” you’d better be ready to act on it. And yes, there will be whining and carrying on, but they make earplugs, so have them ready. After a few times of showing you mean business, this too shall cease.
5. The Bribe-Taker
We often see this with little ones. You’re in a hurry and need to get out the door NOW. But your little one is dawdling yet again. You think you’re crafty by offering a treat, but your child is the one that has all the control here, for she’s learned how to take advantage of the situation.
You’re essentially rewarding your child for not doing what you want, and she’s made you believe she’s complying when she’s not. Pretty smart for a little one. Stop making it about bribes, and you’ll eliminate the manipulation here.
At what age can a child manipulate?
As the last example shows, your child can learn to be manipulative from a very young age. Dr. Susan Rutherford, a clinical psychologist, claims this pattern is learned not before 15 months though it begins with how toddlers learn that crying can get the response they need.
When a child learns her behavior gets her needs met, she’ll continue the pattern. As a parent, you’ve got to spot the pattern to disrupt it. While in younger children, it is more benign, in older children and teenagers, lying and manipulation must be dealt with before acting this way as adults. And we all know the consequences for adults that get into trouble. Unless you want a call at 3 am from the county lockup, you’d be wise to work on getting a handle on that manipulation.
How do I deal with a manipulative daughter?
Dealing with a manipulative child, be it a son or daughter, the best thing you can do is figure out where this is coming from.
- Respond without reacting
Understand how the mind works with kids as they usually seek to meet a need. Your approach should be one of curiosity rather than judgment. She’s likely looking for attention from you, has trouble expressing her feelings, or feels overwhelmed or scared. Target those points to help your child through what she’s going through.
- Halt the emotional blackmail
We all want our kids to have perfect lives but guess what? We can’t control that. And trying to make everything perfect for them will make them unhappy adults who throw tantrums. You know, the kind.
Instead, prepare your child for the world. Things are going to be disappointing and boring for them sooner or later. Don’t give in to the music they’re playing on your heartstrings. I remember my parents refused to let me go on a weekend trip with friends in high school. I told them they were embarrassing me.
It turns out those friends got in trouble for underage drinking in the hotel, and their parents had to come and pick them up. Meanwhile, my parents offered me a more reasonable option of staying out an hour later than usual on the weekend. Looking back, I am so glad they denied me this trip. However, I clearly remember trying to outwit them to get my way.
Think back to when you were a teen, see things so much more clearly, and know how to respond!
- Unify as parents
Whether you are married, living with someone, or divorced, all parents involved with your child must stick together and be on the same page. Don’t let it be a case of “good cop, bad cop” in your house. That’s classic manipulation. I always knew which of my folks was easier on certain topics. Once my parents figured that out, though, they formed a united front, and suddenly, I found I couldn’t get my way anymore.
Once both my parents said, “Hey, we’re on the same page, and you can’t come to either of us separately anymore,” I threw a fit, but I learned how to communicate with them about what I wanted. It sharpened my communication skills and helped me prepare for challenges as an adult. You can do the same for your teenage manipulator too.
- Say what you mean
End the negotiations. When you set rules in your home, they should be followed no matter how young or old your kids are. If you give in, you become a doormat they’ll trample over with no regard.
It sucks to be “the bad guy,” but you’ll be a far cooler mom if you teach your children that you’re not going to bend. Let’s say your teenage daughter wants to hang out with her friends, but her homework isn’t done as per your rule. Don’t cave in. She’ll have some salty remarks for sure, but when you end negotiating here, she learns it’s not getting her anywhere, and she’ll stop this behavior.
- Teach them accountability
Punishing a manipulative child won’t always go over well, especially if you haven’t laid any rules down. Now would be a great time to call to order a family meeting and create rules.
Write down your rules and boundaries, and have your children be active in setting consequences that fit the breaking of these rules. Ideally, a result and incentive will motivate your child to adhere. But if your child stays up too late chatting with friends and you take away the phone but not the laptop, you’re not exactly giving them a reason to stop.
You want to motivate your manipulative child to obey the rules by earning trust to get more freedom. For teens, that would look something like coming in on time for curfew every weekend and earning the right to stay out a little later after 4 weeks of being home on time.
Why You Need to Step Up Tearing Down Manipulation Tactics
When I was a teen, I had a friend who became a manipulative child after divorce. As we went through school together, she learned to manipulate her parents to the extreme.
She’d break the rules, and they’d never really punish her for any of it. At the time, I thought she was so lucky. Her parents let her do anything, or so I thought. But shortly after graduating, she went to college and got into quite a bit of trouble.
She used manipulation tactics to lure men with money, and her boyfriend would jump out and beat them up, taking their money and credit cards. It all came to a head when one of the men her boyfriend beat up suffered brain damage. Meanwhile, this friend of mine was caught at the mall running up thousands upon thousands of dollars of charges on stolen credit cards.
I remember finding that out and feeling sorry for her and thankful my parents stepped in to stop my manipulative ways. It opened my eyes to how to handle my daughters, that’s for sure.
Manipulation for a cookie or small treat seems harmless with little kids. But it embeds more severe behavior. Kids learn how to work around you to get what they want. Stop that manipulation now before it’s too late.
Leslie Berry lives with her husband and two young daughters in Los Altos, California, where she loves helping other moms get comfortable with motherhood and embracing the insanity with facts peppered with laughs.
She loves eating too much sushi, exercising, and jamming out on her Fender. Read more about Leslie here.