The Problem – Child’s Behaviour that appears Manipulative:
I was following a conversation online recently in which a mom was asking for advice. She wanted ideas for dealing with a child who kept asking for help with things that he was perfectly capable of doing himself. Since he was a child from a hard place, she was trying to give as many yeses as possible and provide a nurturing environment, but she was finding it difficult to stay tender towards him. She was dealing with defiance and disrespect from this child, and she felt that his requests were manipulative and more about grasping power than genuine need. She seemed frustrated and exhausted. Reading between the lines, it was as if she was saying, “He doesn’t deserve it.”
I get it. When things are going well with our kiddos and I’m well rested, I have all sorts of patience and compassion. I can give joyful yeses to their requests, knowing that I’m building trust and that they are learning that they have a voice. I’m teaching them that when they voice their needs and ask for help I will meet them there, demonstrating tangibly that I am on their side and that they matter to me. I believe it’s a powerful way to help my children learn that they are precious and that their voices will be heard. They are also learning that they can get their needs met in healthy ways. It’s not always easy to maintain such a positive attitude, however. On days when my physical and emotional reserves are low, and I’ve been dealing with defiance and aggression and hurtful words and a child recoiling in disgust when I get close, it is not easy to say yes. It is especially difficult when they ask for help with something that they can do for themselves. One of our kids often asks me to tie his boots as we’re leaving the house for school in the morning. Since we are usually crunched for time, and this child’s behaviour can cause a fair bit of stress, it is hard for me to meet that need. He is certainly able to tie his own boots, and I know he doesn’t want to be late, so why is he asking me to do it for him?? Too often I have given an exasperated yes instead of a joyful one.
Helpful Tips – It’s NOT about the Boots!:
In moments like this, I try to remind myself that it’s not actually about the boots! I believe that when our kiddos ask for help with something they can do themselves, there’s a lot more going on than manipulation or laziness. I believe that what they are actually communicating is “I need you. Please come close to me.” Since saying that would put them in an unbearably vulnerable spot with huge potential for rejection, they focus on something more superficial. I have noticed a pattern in our home – these types of requests often come on the heels of especially difficult behaviour. It’s as if my child is saying, “Do you still love me? Are you still going to be there for me?” If I can keep this perspective, it becomes much easier to give a willing and joyful yes!
- So how does this work itself out practically? We can’t possibly say yes to everything, and it wouldn’t be helpful to our children to do so. We can probably say yes a lot more often than we do, however! Here are a few more thoughts…
- View your yeses as deposits in a bank account: the more yeses you give, the more likely your child is to handle it well when you need to make a withdrawal in the form of a no!
- Remind yourself often where your child is coming from. Listen to podcasts (I highly recommend the Empowered Parent Podcast). Read blogs and books that help your perspective, such as The Connected Child*, The Whole Brain Child*, and The Yes Brain*, to name a few! Talk to friends who get it and can encourage you.
- Try a day of yeses: make yourself available to your children and pause before saying no. Is there a way to say yes to their request? Consider putting together a yes jar!
- Take care of yourself! I am most likely to resent my children’s requests when my own needs haven’t been met.
- Remember: you and your child are on the same team! Reframe your perspective often to guard against parent vs. child thinking.
I truly believe that if we can view our children’s requests as bids for connection instead of manipulative power plays, we will be able to respond in a connected way that deepens our relationship and builds trust.