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Help! My Kid is Driving Me Crazy – 17 Ways Kids Manipulate to Get What They Want

According to Help! My Kid is Driving Me Crazy, “Children demand instant gratification, and toward that end they use tools that they acquire through trial and error to satisfy short-term goals.”  Author David Swanson identifies your child’s “tools of power” and provides formulas for how parents can effectively respond to such tactics, essentially limiting the ways your child can manipulate you.



Here’s the first six:

1. Emotional Blackmail – “I’ll stay sad until he gives me what I want.”

In this case, Swanson is referring to “your child’s deliberate demonstration of a specific emotion that she knows will cause you discomfort.”  Whether it’s an emotional outburst or nonverbal cues, Swanson argues this manifestation of anger can be an effective tool with “parents who find it difficult to tolerate emotional discontent in their child.”  The first step in combatting emotional blackmail is to “avoid taking responsibility for your child’s assertions about her feelings.”

2. Punishment – “If I can’t get what I want, at least I can get even.”

Children turn to punishment when they are trying to even the score for a perceived injustice.  It’s effective because as Swanson explains “your child deliberately attempts to provoke you into feeling emotional discomfort: anger, worry, or sadness …Your reaction is the evidence he needs to know that he has been effective in his attempt to even the score” so stay calm.

3.  Shutting Down – “I can’t hear a word you’re saying.

This avoidance strategy works because eventually parents either forget or stop asking.  Swanson argues, “Parents usually have themselves to blame when their child Shuts Down…The child has learned that if she doesn’t want to do something, she doesn’t have to.”  According to Swanson, “Parents must determine the activities that most appeal to their child and schedule them in a restricted and measurable time period.”

4. Irrational Logic – “Why can’t I stay out all night?  It’s not like I’m doing drugs.”

Swanson explains, “This tool can be employed by your child in an attempt to get what he wants, or it can be used to escape having to take responsibility for his behavior.”  Either way, it’s meant to soften your reaction with a child attempting to argue that “what she wants is really not a big deal at all when compared to the other scenario she presents.”  Swanson believes the best countermeasure is not to take the bait.

5. Negotiation – “Let me go just this once, and I promise I’ll do all my homework.

Your child attempts to convince you that “your reluctance to give him his way is without merit.”  According to Swanson, he bargains with something he knows you want to increase his chances of getting what he wants.  “The trick to responding to Negotiation is to remember that talk is cheap.”

6. Confrontation and Protest – “If asking doesn’t work, I’ll throw a tantrum.”

When a child hears no, it’s natural for her to become frustrated.  While whining and shouting can be handled if you “stay calm and express one clear point about the consequences of not following your directive,” Swanson believes physical attacks are cause for a professional intervention.

The biggest thing to remember is never to leave issues unresolved at bedtime, as it will have a negative impact on your child’s self-esteem as well as on his future behavior.  Ultimately, as Swanson argues, “Kids who don’t feel good about themselves will take it out on those around them – specifically the ones who love them.”



Up next week…Steamrolling, Covert Operations, Divide and Conquer, Tactical Engagement, Creating Leverage, and Playing the Victim.

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Victoria Winterhalter

Victoria Winterhalter

Victoria Winterhalter is a mother, teacher, reader, and writer on the education and environment beats for RFM. She has been with RFM since its founding in 2009 and has contributed photos and written numerous articles on education, parenting, and family travel.

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