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Attitude Makeover: Manipulative

Compare your notes with others who know your kid well, and then write down your best guess as to the real purpose of her deceptive attitude. You will use it in the next step. Meanwhile, from this moment on, any time your kid tries to sway you with this or any other manipulative tactic, immediately stop her in her tracks. That means in public as well as in your home. The next step shows you how. Her attitude cannot be allowed for any reason.

Step 3. Expose The Underlying Deception
Once you recognize your kid's manipulative tactics and underlying purpose, let him know you're onto him. As soon as you see him starting to be manipulative, stop him on the spot (and that means anywhere you are – in a restaurant, on a soccer field, in a supermarket, or in your family room). If he is agitated or losing control, do wait until he is calm enough to talk. For a younger kid, this might mean sitting him next to you for a brief period or putting him in a quiet area until he can settle down. For an older kid, ask him to go to his room a few minutes, or tell him you will wait in another room until he is in control. Only then should you confront your kid with his deception and your theory as to why he is using it. Use a calm, firm voice, and stick to the facts. Cut out judgments, lengthy sermons, and admonitions ("You keep this up, you'll end up in juvenile detention"): they are never helpful. Here are a few examples:

"I've noticed that every time it's your turn for sharing, you say you have a headache. Do you feel a little scared about talking in front of your class?"

"I saw how you pulled that tantrum as soon as we got to the toy section and you saw those cars. You did the same thing with Dad last week." A young kid will not be able to explain, so just jump to the chase: "Throwing a fit to get what you want will not work."

"Every time Mrs. Castro carpools, you can't seem to find your backpack so I end up driving you. What's going on so you don't want to be in Mrs. Castro's car?"

"You've been pretending that you can't lift your toy box to that upper shelf. But I've seen you stand on a chair to get down that heavy box of video games. I don't want to hear any more about being so helpless."

"Each time you get red-carded by the umpire for your poor sportsmanship, you blame someone else. How can your teammate be the cause of your tripping an opponent? You are responsible for your own actions, and you are the one getting red-carded."

A few words of caution: First, don't ask your kid to explain why he is deceptive. He honestly may not know. Manipulators (especially younger ones) usually don't calculate their attitudes; they just respond to the situation. Older kids often act out of a habit that just kicks in automatically. Also, don't expect a profound ethical discussion to take place between the two of you. It would be nice, but chances are it won't happen. After all, you are confronting your kid about his devious, dishonest ways, so he is likely to be embarrassed, deny the charges, or flat-out refuse to listen. Your goal here is to have your kid hear you out and let him know in no uncertain terms that the attitude will not be tolerated. Do make sure other potential manipulated victims are aware of your kid's tactics and the new policy so you're on board together.

Step 4. Help Kids Face Their Fears, Not Avoid Them Through Manipulation
If your child is using manipulation to avoid something causing anxiety or fear, don't be too quick to let her off the hook. First, think things through. If she is capable of the task and the expectation is fair and reachable, then do not give in. That would be a huge mistake. Instead, insist that she face her fear. A big part of life is learning how to cope, and childhood is the best time to learn how.

Do not dismiss your child's fear or punish her for it. The fear is very real. Instead, comfort her by acknowledging that you understand how she feels. Then let her know you believe in her and are confident she can succeed. Be very clear that you will not rescue her, but will help her cope until she prevails. Here are a few ideas to help her face her fears without manipulating her way out:

  • Recognize feelings. "I know it seems hard, but you can do it." "I know how apprehensive you feel, but I'm here for you."
  • Teach coping skills. Teach her a few healthy ways to deal with her anxiety, such as saying a statement inside her head to help her handle the stress: "Chill out, calm down." "I can do this." "It's nothing I can't handle." Teach her to close her eyes and slowly breathe in and out three times. Or ask her to think of a place she has been where she feels calm – for instance, the beach, her bed, the park. When anxiety kicks in, tell her to close her eyes and imagine that spot, while breathing slowly.
  • Model accepting blame. Help your kid learn how to accept blame for her actions. Start by admitting your own shortcomings so your kids have a model to copy – for example: "This was all my fault: I should have read the movie section before dragging you here to find out the show started thirty minutes ago." Then expect your family to take ownership for their mistakes and not pass the blame onto others.
  • Arrange tutoring. Does she need special help to improve? If so, arrange it.
  • Rehearse the skill. New skills take lots of practice, so rehearse them over and over until your child gains the confidence to demonstrate the skill in front of others.
  • Celebrate little steps. Acknowledge each little effort your child makes along the way, and then celebrate her successes both big and little.

Next: Step 5 >>

From Don't Give Me That Attitude by Michele Borba, Ed.D. Copyright © 2004 by Michele Borba. All rights reserved. Used by arrangement with John Wiley & Sons, Inc.

Buy the book at www.amazon.com.

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