Parents often shift in their response to misbehavior. The first response is disbelief - "You must be talking about another child' - as their child has done so well in playing sweet to adults. This is followed by shock as the parents become aware of some of their child's social interactions. This can lead to them trying to find what has caused this change in their child. Generally there hasn't been a change in their child; the only change has been in their own awareness.
|Kids Manipulative Behavior|
The most common response that follows is shame. Parents worry that their child will grow up to be a bully. This is not inevitable, but work needs to be done to help the Manipulators thrive. This response can be followed by a desire to catch them out, which can build a world of distrust and sneakiness.
One of the bizarre features of parenting bright kids is that you can start behaving in the very ways you are trying to help your child not to behave in. For example, a parent who is concerned about their child keeping secrets starts rummaging through her room and diaries without telling her. The great risk is that you role-model the very behavior you want to lessen.
Common responses when told to stop misbehaving
Ever see the scene from The Exorcist where Linda Blair's head spins around and green bile floods from her mouth? Well, the response of Manipulators when parents "call them out" on their actions is pretty impressive, but it's not quite as bad as that. They will often lie and then, if that doesn't work, will blame you, your intentions, your intelligence, and even your sanity.
Strategies for parenting Manipulators
As these kids have usually spent many years playing cute to adults, and are supremely skilled at presenting themselves as competent and mature, the first issue confronting their parents is, have they allowed their child too free a rein? These kids may be seriously under-parented and may need increased surveillance to learn how to interact well with their peers.
To really help these kids, a big time investment is required. They are used to being the Little Prince or Princess, and adjusting to having their near-royal status changed takes some time. These kids begin to change when they finally meet an adult who has got them stitched, someone who has got their number. Manipulators often thrive when they feel their parents have eyes in the back of their heads, as the parents pick up on small behaviors and don't give them an inch.
This doesn't need to be nasty or punitive. In fact, the most effective way is to cheerily say to a Manipulator, "I'm hanging out with you" or "Guess what? You get to come with me today." They may well roll their eyes and complain or protest, "I haven't done anything wrong." To which the best response is to say sweetly, "No, but you might."
What is fascinating to watch is the bond that forms between a Manipulator and a parent who takes on this very proactive style of parenting. There is almost a sense of relief from the child that finally they have encountered a fully fledged, valid adult.
David was 13 years of age and a very skilled Manipulator. His parents had separated years before and David had used the confused communication between his parents to embark on a rather successful life of petty crime.
This all came tumbling down when David was caught with a computer in hand in a local school at 10 p.m. by the police. His parents and teachers were shocked, and told me this was completely out of character. We decided to use the approach of intensive adult contact, and included the school in this. For the next six weeks, David barely had a moment when there wasn't an adult by his side including him, accompanying him, and keeping an eye on him. At first he moaned and grumbled about this, but eventually came to enjoy the adult contact.
Manipulators can be very successful at developing a support network of hangers-on. These might be friends, but they may also be grandparents or brothers or sisters. When you start to help these kids stop their manipulative ways, do it out of sight of the hangers-on.
Helping a Manipulator become a "reciprocator' - that is, someone who can give as well as take - means helping her learn the skills of getting along with others. This is a lesson most Manipulators find difficult to grasp. It's important to remember that reciprocators are usually happier people than Manipulators. The ability to be considerate of other people's needs is an important predictor of life success as well as a source of resilience.
These kids can grow into great leaders and can show great leadership. Let them select the goal, such as making a particular person happy. Address their issues, especially low self-esteem. Generally their self-esteem is based on outdoing others rather than on something positive. To find out more, you can check out Kids Manipulative Behavior.