Monday, June 24, 2013

Recognizing a Manipulative Child: Stop It Early or Pay for it Later

We've talked a lot about manipulative behavior in RAD kids, and with kids in general, and nipping this kind of behavior in the bud early is vital.

We see it a lot in kids who have issues with Lying, as discussed in our post: Liar, Liar, Pants on Fire, and we deal with the behavior in our post on House Rules.

Overall, once you can learn to identify manipulative behavior in your children, even very young children, when you see it, and not give in to it, you disarm the child and force him or her to deal with individuals in a more straightforward manner.

 It teaches children that they must deal with consequences and must learn to get what they want from others by earning things, requesting things or must learn to accept limitations, respecting the guidelines of their caregiver.

Check out this article recently published online on the topic on

Is My Young Child Manipulating Me? An Interview with Dr. Susan Rutherford

By Molly Yarnell Skyar & Dr. Susan Rutherford

Mother of two young kids, Molly Skyar interviews her mother, Dr. Susan Rutherford, a clinical psychologist about how to deal with a manipulative child and how your parenting decisions today may affect your child as an adult.

Dr. Rutherford: That is an interesting question, and I don’t have a definitive answer, but even very young children can see the power they can have over their parents. It’s mostly an issue of patterns.
For instance, if a 2-year-old is crying at night and his parents always pick him up and hold him when he does this, he will actually train himself to wake up to get the comfort. You could call that manipulative behavior, and maybe it is, but I confess that I’m on the fence about using that term here.

Children can learn how to get certain responses from their parents from a very young age. Typically not before 15 months, but some kids can understand this dynamic really quickly, and the parents can tell. They may feel manipulated and resent their child. In this case, they must intervene to change the dynamic. Let’s remember who’s the parent and who’s the child. As a parent, you have to set the tone for the child, and when they attempt to manipulate you, you have to be firm – loving but firm – that it is not going to work.

Supposing you have an older child. You might want to set up some limits around how often they can be on the computer. Then he or she will test you (and they will always test you) by trying to expand beyond the boundaries you have set. You should expect this. You’ll have to intervene right away and say, “Remember how we talked about this: you get to play on your computer for one-half hour a day and now you’re moving into 45 minutes. That’s not okay, and you need to put the computer away. If you can’t follow the rules, you’ll lose your time on the computer tomorrow.”

Kids will test you, and may test to see if they can manipulate you with tears or tantrums, and a parent should be ready to face these behaviors with resolve.

Molly: Are there any long-term consequences for not dealing with this type of manipulative behavior early on?
Dr. Rutherford: Yes, there can be, especially if the pattern sets in and the child learns that the way to get what he wants is to manipulate the parents. Children can actually be quite good at this. That behavior will go on and on at home, and it will expand to include other people like classmates and teachers, or other people that he comes in contact with, like coaches. Nobody likes to feel manipulated and usually people do experience a sense of being manipulated when it happens. What happens if this is left unaddressed in children is they end up forming a kind of character flaw or a negative character aspect that follows them into adulthood and really lasts forever. It’s much more difficult to change your character as an adult.

What do you think? And how do you deal with manipulative behavior?  


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  1. I have a question: We have adopted a 7yrs old pretty much illiterate child whose real age turned out to be way more than that. She seems to be more than what we were told, very intelligent, not willing to study, manipulates almost like an adult. She acts one way in front of me and completely opposite with my biological children. This is just one example. Can you give me some advise on how to deal with this kinda situations without disturbing the serenity in the family.

  2. Hi Vijaya, Im sorry for your troubles .
    How long have you had her?
    This type of behavior is extremely difficult to change. The first thing you should do is install security cameras in the house. This will help you know EXACTLY what is going on in the house (set it up to videotape - ) so that lying about who-did-what won't work. This will also protect you if she should accuse you (her parents) of abuse to the police.
    Please read our series on Blending Bio Kids and Adopted (or Foster) kids. There are a lot of important lessons there.
    Post house rules and chore lists along with specific consequences and rewards for activities. By doing this you clearly define the rules and the kids can't accuse you of favoritism. Be sure to STICK TO THE CONSEQUENCES and rules. (we have several samples here) Look thru our most popular posts (on right side of blog) and you'll see plenty of info on how to deal with RAD kids.
    Having concrete rules and schedules (even in summer) is VITAL. RAD kids feel more secure when they know what's coming.
    Hang in there, friend... Let us know how you are doing.