I have often heard about the dangers of using manipulation when parenting. Manipulation in parenting contributes to an increased risk of rebellion, excessive guilt, and even depression in the child being manipulated. But what exactly is manipulative parenting? What practices make up manipulative parenting? We need to know the answers to these questions, so we don’t accidentally engage in manipulation. With that in mind, let me explain 5 ways in which parents might manipulate their children as they try to discipline.
- Withdrawing love or isolating their child. Children need their parents. They need to know their parent’s love for them is unshakable, present, and available. When we send our children to their room for an indefinite period of time or suddenly withdraw ourselves emotionally from their world, they become insecure. They question their own lovability. And they will do almost anything to regain the security of their parents’ love and attention. When we withdraw our love or isolate our children, we have used their innate need for our loving presence and attention to manipulate them into behaviors we desire. So, rather than give your child an indefinite time out, give them a timeframe (a short timeframe). Then restore the relationship. Even better, give your child a “time-in” instead of a time-out. If you find yourself needing some emotional distance from a situation with your child, talk to them first. Explain to them that you simply need time alone and how they can provide that space without even leaving the room by quietly engaging in an activity on their own. Also, give them a time frame for your time alone. Once again, reunite with them immediately afterwards.
- Eliciting a “guilt trip.” We have all seen parents attempt to make their children engage in desired behavior or make a particular decision by sending them on a guilt trip. You know…phrases like, “I can’t believe you would do this to me after I…” or “I taught you better than that” or “You drive me crazy. Why don’t you just sit still and be quiet?” Even a look of disappointment and shame can send our children on a guilt trip. Using guilt to elicit the behavior or decisions we desire in our children is manipulation…and detrimental to their emotional health. Rather than sending your child on a guilt trip, explain what behavior you desire and the reasons you desire it. Take time to teach.
- The “silent treatment.” “Silent treatment” is another way parents isolate their child. The still face experiment (seen in this video for both an infant and a married couple) reveals how the silent treatment negatively impacts our children. They become emotionally dysregulated and will do anything to reengage with their parent. Getting our children to do what we want by engaging in ” silent treatment” is manipulation. Learn, instead, to talk with your child. Teach them. Explain yourself. This may include becoming a bit vulnerable at times. But, when we talk, teach, and listen, our children will grow. You will grow. And their positive behavior will increase.
- Humiliating, shaming, or embarrassing. Of course, this is manipulative. We never want to humiliate, shame, or embarrass our children. Really, we want to model healthy ways of interaction in our own interaction with them. We want to treat our children with the same respect and love with which we want them to treat us and others in the world. They will learn through their experience with us.
- Social comparisons. Social comparisons manipulate by inducing guilt, embarrassing, and even humiliating our children. There is no need to compare our children with anyone else. In fact, we find our children’s best self in their uniqueness. Accept them for “who they are,” strengths and weaknesses alike. Acceptance carries great power to promote their growth and maturity. Children learn to value themselves and their capacity for growth when they find acceptance in and from us.
These five practices are signs of manipulative parents. Each one has a detrimental effect on our children. Each one backfires in the long run. Each one interferes with healthy relationships. But each once can be replaced with loving respect, kind instruction, healthy interactions, and acceptance. When we replace manipulation with respect, instruction, acceptance, and healthy relationships, we will enjoy a growing relationship with our constantly maturing children.