20+ Signs Your Child Is Manipulating You

It can be hard to know when and if your child is manipulating you, but there are some tell-tale signs that may give it away.

Here are the signs that your child is manipulating you, according to parenting experts.

Dr. Meghan Marcum

Meghan Marcum

Chief Psychologist, A Mission For Michael

When a child engages in manipulation strategies, the purpose is usually an attempt to get their needs or wants to be met. The inherent problem with the child’s effort is that their behaviors violate the rights of others.

Toddlers will throw things or hit

Younger children are constantly testing boundaries to see what is tolerated. This is a normal part of childhood development. It crosses the line when there is a potential safety concern. When a toddler makes a demand, and the answer is “no,” sometimes the child will throw things or hit, which is not acceptable behavior.

As the child grows older they may attempt to re-negotiate the rules

As the child grows older and pushes for their own way, these behaviors may include:

  • crying
  • attempts to re-negotiate the rules
  • lying
  • name-calling
  • bullying

These are all indications of boundary violations.

Related: How to Deal With Someone Who Doesn’t Respect Boundaries

Adolescents may wait until their parents are preoccupied to ask if they can have money or go out

Adolescents are savvier as they have learned through experience how to trigger a parent’s response. For example, adolescents may wait until their parents are preoccupied to ask if they can have money or go out. They may use the silent treatment as an attempt to punish the parent for saying no.

Adult children may call their parents only when they need to ask for financial or emotional support

Throughout the lifespan, children recognize how to employ maladaptive behaviors to get their way.

Related: Parenting an Adult Child Living at Home & Good House Rules

As a parent, it’s important to establish clear and healthy boundaries early in childhood. Healthy boundaries are flexible and require good communication. Children are less likely to continue using manipulation tactics if they understand why the guideline has been set.

If the parent is always viewed as authoritarian, it doesn’t allow for dialogue and compromise. Kids want to feel heard, and they will not hesitate to seek negative attention if they aren’t receiving enough attention through positive behaviors.

If you’re wondering what you can do to support more positive attention, first limit yourself from reacting to your child when they are acting out. Don’t reinforce the tantrum (or other negative behavior) by bringing attention to it.

Instead, let your child calm down on their own, then revisit the issue with compassion and connection before discipline. Remember your child’s effort is to get their need/want met, which can help redirect your communication.

If you’re upset too, wait until you have also had an opportunity to calm down before trying to discuss discipline. Try to follow the same guidelines you set for your children.

For example, if the rule of the house is no food in the bedroom, try to honor that rule yourself, so the child doesn’t receive mixed messages. The interactions we have with our children are modeling the ways in which they will learn and continue to communicate as they grow older.

The best methods for teaching our children about how to behave are set by example.

Aniko Dunn, Psy.D.

Aniko Dunn

Doctor of Psychology, EZCare Clinic

Children usually thrive in their lives if you bring a few rules and structure into their upbringing. Children usually manipulate when you want their behaviors to be effective.

Following are the signs your kids want to manipulate a situation and what you should do to control them.

They ask the same questions repeatedly

Sometimes children ask the same questions repeatedly, though initially, you already provided a response to them. They do not like the answer and repeat the question again.

Example:

Kid: Mom, can I go outside in the backyard to play?
Mom: No, it’s raining, do not go outside play in your playroom.
Kid: Mom, can I go outside? I want to play.
Mom: No, I have already told you. It is raining outside. You can’t go in the backyard to play.
Kid: Mom, what? I want to play outside.

Remain consistent and do not change your answer if your child continues to ask the same question. Instead, call the time out for repeating the question when you have already answered it, and tell them you will not change the answer so that they can stop asking.

They will start arguing with you if you make a decision for them

Sometimes kids start arguing if you make a decision for them. Do not engage them in an argument where you have to justify your answer. When you will say “No,” there is nothing else that matters to them, and they want you to need to change it into “Yes.”

Listen to what they want to express, but do not change your decision if the issue is already being discussed. Be strong and assure them that you’ve made a decision and you’re not going to change it.

They won’t respond when you ask them something

Sometimes you ask them a task to do, and they do not respond. For example, if you ask them to pick their toys in the living room, they do not reply. Then, when you ask them why they’re not replying, they won’t respond.

It means they are manipulating you if they choose not to answer. So whenever you ask any question, ask your kids to acknowledge it. Then request a response and action directly.

They overwhelm you with questions

They’re overwhelmed and ask repeated questions, “Can I do this? Can I have this? Can I…? Can I…?” and the list goes on. It is a never-ending list of questions that they ask intentionally or even unintentionally to wear down their parents to get what they want.

They try to emotionally blackmail you

They will make a demand and try to force you to full fill it. If you do what they want, they will be happy and affectionate. Therefore, be stable, make good rules and regulations for their well-being, and do not make their habit to emotionally blackmail you.

Dr. Noha Polack, MD

Noha Polack

Pediatrician, Progressive Pediatrics

Your child is lying to get their way

When your baby cries, your parental instinct is to soothe them and help them feel better. As your baby becomes a toddler, they have fewer needs since they can feed themselves, but you still have to provide the food.

As your toddler becomes a school-age child, then pre-teen and teenager, they have fewer physical needs, but they require more boundaries and limits to help them develop into adults that can sustain long-term relationships.

As your baby grows, they want to expand their influence and get their way. Most children do manipulate their caregivers in order to meet their perceived needs and wants.

The most important thing I tell parents as their pediatrician is to keep their parenting goal in mind.

Is your parenting goal to make your child happy or to help them develop into an individual that can sustain themselves and their own relationships? With that goal in mind, it will be more difficult for your child to manipulate you.

Some signs that your child is manipulating you are:

  • Your child is lying to get their way.
  • They are yelling and screaming to get you to do what they want.
  • They use phrases such as:
    • “I hate you.”
    • “You never really loved me.”
    • “you are a bad parent.”
  • They say “everyone else is allowed to do this.”

If you feel triggered, then you will respond by either giving into their demand or yelling back and adding fuel to the fire. Keep your parenting goal in mind.

Make that goal your mantra during these times of trouble with your child. Repeat the mantra in your own head “it is not my goal to make you happy but to help you develop and stay safe.”

Finally, if you feel like you have been manipulated by your child and gave in, do not worry; you are not alone. Use that as a learning experience for the next bout, which will undoubtedly come!

Ray Sadoun

Ray Sadoun

Medical Reviewer & Addiction Advocate, OK Rehab

Manipulative phrases your child may use

When we want to know whether our child is behaving in an authentic or manipulative way, it is crucial to look at their language. The speech of a manipulator is often dramatic and accusatory.

Here are a few examples of something your child may say when they are manipulating you:

  • “You don’t love me.”
  • “If you loved me, you would say yes.”
  • “My friends’ parents let them do this, so they must love them more.”
  • “I’ll be good if you say yes.”
  • “Stop overreacting. It’s not a big deal.”

Manipulative behaviors in your child

If you don’t give your child what they want, they may begin to act in a manipulative way. In other words, they escalate the situation as you have not complied.

The following behaviors may indicate that your child is manipulating you:

  • Lying about their whereabouts
  • Denying previously unacceptable behaviors
  • Accusing you of something you didn’t do
  • Playing mind games (e.g., gaslighting)
  • Making you feel guilty for saying no to them

Alice Anderson

Alice Anderson

Founder, Mommy To Mom

They may compare your parenting to their friends’ parents

I see myself as a reasonable parent, and I always make an effort to consider my child’s feelings when making decisions. My 13-year-old daughter knows that, and sometimes I feel as though she uses it to her advantage to get what she wants.

One way she tries to manipulate me is when she will compare my parenting to what her friends’ parents allow them to do since she knows I try to be fair.

For example, things have been hard for her not being able to see her friends very much over this past year. Between the pandemic and remote learning, she’s lost a lot of time with them. They all have social media and keep in touch that way. I don’t feel it is appropriate for her to have yet, and she constantly asks because of the situation.

I don’t give in, but it makes me feel terrible.

This ends in her moping around the house frequently until I suggest something that will cheer her up. I find myself trying to make up for her loneliness in other ways. I’ll take her shopping because she’s bored, for instance. We spend time together doing things that don’t cost money as well, but she really loves shopping for clothes.

I know she’s manipulating me some of the time to get what she wants, but other times I know she is really sad about the way things are right now. At the end of the day, I have to do what I feel is right. I’m not going to give in just because all of her friends are allowed to do something.

Brandon Walsh

Brandon Walsh

CEO, Dadsagree

They will not do whatever you ask them to unless you give them what they want

A child is unaware whether what they are asking for is right for them or not, but they will still be willing to go beyond any limits to get it. This helps them come up with weird ideas to convince their parents. They will not do whatever you ask them to unless you give them what they want.

This is the worst form of manipulation and can become a habit.

For example, they’ll ask you to buy them a new phone, or they won’t do their homework. Another thing they can do is that you’re at the grocery store, and your child finds something he really wants, but you refuse to get it for them — they will then start crying, roll on the floor and make a scene in public.

This is where you don’t want to feel embarrassed and are likely to end up giving in to their demands. This is a bad habit of manipulating parents that kids often do in public, be it a gathering or any public place they try to use the opportunity.

How to deal with this?

If you live up to their demands, it will become a habit, and they will manipulate you whenever they need something. Start by telling them that this way won’t work, they have to do their homework, which is not a choice, and they’ll get what they need once you feel it is the right time. Or you could punish them for this behavior, ground them, or give them a strict bedtime and limit their activities so they can stop manipulating you.

In order to deal with them in public, you have to give in to their demands for once, for the sake of making them calm and avoid the embarrassment. However, once you are back home, you need to talk to them about what happened.

Tell them you won’t be taking them along again because of their behavior, and if they ever misbehave in public, they will be grounded, or you can warn them about a different punishment.

Mo Mulla

Mo Mulla

Creator and Co-writer, Parental Questions

Badgering is the most common way a child can get their way

Certain kids are able to understand how to manipulate their parents’ weaknesses. Badgering is the most common way a child can get their way.

If you are frequently noticing your child becoming impulsive and asking for the same thing over and over again, it is possible that they are manipulating you into submission through their persistence. They can solidify that claim by throwing tantrums or displaying unacceptable behavior if you are unable to complete their wishes.

An example of this can be when your child wants something from the grocery store while shopping, even when you clearly told them you couldn’t spend any more money. They keep repeating the question innocently or either showing shifting emotions.

Badgering, at times, can be a plea to get attention, so it is wise to be observant if your child is acting off. Children can resort to manipulating subconsciously when they do not get the appropriate amount of love or relevance from their parents.

As human beings, we love being in control, and when we establish a way to have that power over other people, it can become an addiction.

Children are raw when it comes to emotional hindrance, and badgering can stay with them throughout their teen years if not dealt with properly. Be sure to teach and love kids accordingly, so they do not have to resort to negativity.

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