Experimenters in Manipulation

When it comes to getting out of doing undesirable activities (i.e. homework, picking up toys, eating vegetables, turning off electronics) children can be masterful negotiators. In other terms, children can be master manipulators. Parents don't often like to hear me make this statement when we are in conversation. I often work to normalize this, because the fact is all children do it. And they are persistent little buggers too! Whether their goal is a cookie before dinner, more candy, less discipline, a later bedtime, more screen time, or less broccoli on their dinner plate, children are little scientist. They experiment repeatedly, often conducting the same tests over and over again. Often thinking outside the box and getting creative. Whether the experiment blows up in their face or not, children continually look for chinks in the armor, until they find success! This reminds me of a comical scene from Harry Potter, where potions class yielded mixed results for many of Harry's classmates.

 From Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince...in potions class.

From Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince...in potions class.

Some Moms and Dads today have become fearful of telling their children "no" out of fear of not meeting some sort of personal or societal standard of being a "good parent". When parents develop this pattern of giving in to their child's every whim or giving their child everything they could ever want, they are trading places with their child. The child takes over the lead role of the household. There is another truth to acknowledge. These parent actions very rarely come from a bad place. They often come from a place of love and wanting to make their children happy. However, the consistent giving in, in order to achieve "good parent" status, undermines your authority. It also develops within your child a pattern in thinking and behaving that all they have to do is push back and they will get their way. This is often when parents and children will develop a "dance" of sorts to their fighting. A choreography is established and the steps are repeated over and over again in a multitude of scenarios. 

I am often asked, "What do I do when my child responds to my "No" with an outburst or by saying "You don't love me" or "You are mean"? Or perhaps it is your teen, who ups the ante with a "You suck" or "You are the worst parent ever!" You can respond with compassion. First, you can choose to model the type of respect and interaction that you desire from your child. Choose your body language, tone, and words wisely. Acknowledge their feelings (i.e. sad, disappointed, frustrated, confused). Reaffirm them of your love for them, followed by restating your position and finally that you are firm in your decision. In the end, remind yourself that this is not a popularity contest. It is parenthood.

So is it possible for your child to receive your love and not get what they want?

Yes. It is important for children to learn to hear no. The world is full of different "No's". Whether it is a street sign (i.e. No parking. No loitering. No U-Turn, No walking, No entry), a friend, a college admissions office, or a prospective employer. The world is full of adversity and your child is sure to face it. One of the ways you can help prepare your child is by telling them no and sticking to it - in other words setting boundaries. Sometimes love means saying no. 

Daring to set boundaries is about having the courage to love ourselves, even when we risk disappointing others
— Brene Brown