How can you avoid being manipulated by a child who wants to control you?
I understand that children change our lives and we must be lovingly devoted to their upbringing. Children are not a burden or an annoyance (even though annoying at times). They need caring attentive parents and there are few higher callings in life. But it doesn’t take long before children become demanding in ways that are selfish and require discipline. Don’t fall for the trap of child-centered parenting (catch my short radio clip: Three relationships in the home).
Children can be crafty in their efforts to control their parents. They figure out just what to say or do to impress parents and get what they want. Sometimes they resort to whining, sulking, screaming, fast-talking and other forms of disrespect and manipulation. Yes, it’s not unusual for those precious little ones to learn very early to do whatever it takes to control you.
It’s not unusual for kids to try to play their parents like a fiddle — especially teens. And parents are sometimes naïve and slow to detect deceptive behavior. When parents are gullible (or perhaps willingly complicit), kids smell weakness and seize the opportunity. It’s always kind of painful to watch parents be manipulated by their children – especially when you know they’re being played.
If you’re a parent who is too easily controlled by your children, please listen to some tough but important words of advice:
The first thing to do is to return to the basics.
Remind yourself that YOU are the parent. Look in the mirror and say it to yourself if you must. “I am the parent here!” You’re the one who supposed to distinguish needs and wants when they demand what they want. It’s your job to set the terms for acceptable attitudes, speech and behavior. Don’t wimp out when faced with a strong willed kid. Team up as parents. Make sure your children know that there is no possibility of a divide and conquer approach by going to mom or dad.
It sounds so simple but bears repeating: You’re the one who is supposed to be in charge. Stop letting the kids call the shots! Stop being played. There’s a difference between listening to your child’s thoughts and feelings and being controlled by them.
Don’t fear using second person address (“You”) when correcting your children. “YOU will stop that behavior or change that tone this minute!” Have you ever seen a kid acting like a precocious brat while a parent is mildly asking, “What can WE do to make this better?” This is a sign of parental confusion. If your child behaves this way, look him in the eye (or take him by the ear) and say, “Cut it out or else!” If necessary, name a reasonable consequence and be ready to enforce it.
Some parents entertain a misguided notion of needing to be a servant to their children. Listen! Your children need a parent not a servant. Much of what you do as a parent is in reality a kind of serving, but they must clearly view you as their parent – not as their servant. Do you jump when they raise their voices or whine at you? If you do, you’re grooming a selfish person to think that everyone around him exists for him. Our children should be taught to serve others (including you) as a means of restraining the strong pull toward selfishness in the sin nature.
Raising children requires from parents a mix of responses that many find difficult to make. Parenting well requires vigilance, attention and devotion. It’s hard work. It’s not for the weak-hearted or feeble! The will in each child is bound to find ways to make life center on self not others. Our role is not necessarily to break the will but to shape and direct it. This requires watchful discipline and continual loving but firm correction. Children need a blend of structure, discipline, communication and love.
Don’t be shaped by your child’s will. And please don’t feed the problem by responding to precocious behavior as if it’s cute or humorous. Do both society and your child’s future a favor and firmly correct such behavior. Do the same if your children demand their way and throw fits or sulk when they don’t get what they want. God made you the parent, so act like one.
Take note of how your children talk to other adults.
- Do they speak with respect?
- Do they use the right titles of address?
Correct your children when they speak disrespectfully to or about people in authority. Even if they rightly assess the wrong of an authority figure, make sure they keep a respectful attitude.
Parents contribute to the demise of their children when they fall for deceitful or disrespectful tones and behavior. Parents who allow their children to use disrespect and defiance to control them need a wake-up call. This indicates a deeper problem on the part of the parent than the child.
If you’re allowing your child to use hurtful words, blaming-shifting, begging and pleading, or even lying to get what he wants, it’s time for you to face the hard truth. Failure to correct these behaviors is a sure way to prepare disaster for your child’s future and heartache for your life.
Of course, we must always remember to model respect in our own attitudes and words toward each other as parents and other adults. It’s not surprising to trace disrespect in children to patterns in parents. Do one of you as parents act in deceitful or manipulative and controlling ways toward others? Are you respectful toward authority figures? Are you deceitful in playing others by saying the things that will impress them and get what you want? Do you always have to be right and know more than others? Again behaviors in children are often learned through adult examples.
Avoid Parenting to impress
Please also recognize the danger of controlling your children to appease or impress others — especially the parent critics. Some parents make respect more about their image then the child’s wellbeing. Do the right thing and the best thing for your children no matter what others think or say. Review the idols parents must avoid here.
If you plan to raise your children well, you’ll have to learn the art of switching from tenderness to toughness many times in a given day (or hour!). Children are willing to take over and run things if parents shift into passivity or are easily manipulated.
On one level, if a child doesn’t feel sufficient consequences for disrespectful or deceitful behavior, he’ll likely stick with it or change his strategy instead of changing his behavior.
Is all of what I am suggesting easier said than done? Yes. And for some parents it will be more challenging than others. If you tend to be the type who enables others or who is easily manipulated, this will be more difficult for you. If you didn’t have good role models in your home of origin, you’ll struggle more to blaze the right path.
As children grow older (pre-teen and teen years), I recommend that parents choose their battles. Sometimes when a child had a tough day and shows it with a bad mood, giving him a little space to sort things out is necessary. I often told our children that we understood why they feel frustrated but when their frustration turns into disrespect or upsets the family atmosphere, they’ve crossed a line that won’t be ignored. Sometimes I sent them off to their rooms to find a quiet place to decompress until they got to a better frame of mind for conversation.
Stay faithful on the parental journey and remember these wise words: “Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up” (Galatians 6:9).
“The rod and reproof give wisdom, but a child who gets his own way brings shame to his mother” (Proverbs 29:15).