Tuesday, May 19, 2009

"Manipulating Parents" by Paul W Robinson

The first, and most important, point of this book is that children do not try to manipulate their parents per se, they simply seek ways to get what they want. In other words, their intentions are pure, but sometimes their methods are problematic.
I do agree with that basic premise--that children often engage in manipulating behavior in their efforts to get what they want. I have mixed responses to the author's recommendations for how to respond to these behaviors, but here I will go into the parts which with I agree.

Robinson begins by outlining classic methods of manipulation:
  • ask for more, settle for less (child asks for 10 more minutes, haggles down to 5, but still gets more time which is what he wanted)
  • repeating (they ask so many times that the parent wears out and gives in)
  • setting parents against each other ("but mom said..." "dad would let me...")
  • shaping (asks for something small, then more, then more)
  • wearing out the parent (they squirm until let go, ignore until parent gives up, etc)
  • follow the crowd ("but everybody is doing it")
  • playing favorites ("you let __ do ___, you like him better")
  • threats ("I'll run away") or tantrums
  • public places (they know you'll respond differently in front of friends or a crowd)
He then expresses that it is important for the parent to be "in the driver's seat" and to not let the child run things. Now here is a point where I don't wholly agree...as I've mentioned elsewhere, I don't want my children to grow up to be yes-men, I want them to be thinking individuals. On the other hand, (to stick with his driving analogy), my kids only have learners permits, whereas I am a licensed driver, so they do need to heed me as I am trying to teach them safe and appropriate ways to get down the road. ☺
Robinson offers a list of ways that the parent can stay in the drivers seat, including classic recommendations such as "be aware of your child's manipulations and never give in," "be consistent," and "give children freedoms in direct proportion to their appropriate behavior." I used to think that these things made a lot of sense, but as illustrated in past (and future) parenting posts here, some of my perspectives have shifted.
I do agree with the author on the following points:
  • The child should take responsibility for his own actions (don't put blame on yourself or anyone else)
  • The child should take responsibility for his own knowledge
  • Respond to (correct) your child as necessary, regardless of location, situation, or surrounding people [a personal note: if in public, I think it is important to correct children in a discreet way, but I do think it's best to address problems immediately rather than waiting]
  • Make sure the child knows that you love him. Say it, show it, and remind him often.
  • Make sure that your words match your actions. Be someone your child can count on [and, I would add, don't utilize manipulative techniques on them either!]
I'm working on a post outlining the most basic premise of my parenting philosophy, which is respect: respect for oneself and for everyone else. Truthfully, if respect is demonstrated and practiced by the parents, it will probably be practiced by the children as well, and it is likely that manipulative behaviors will be sporadic rather than habitual. However every child is different, and I think that some are inclined toward manipulation. Again, it's not a malicious thing on their part, it is simply their effort to get what they want. Since I perceive their wants as being as valid as my own, I'm often willing to give them what they want. I am opposed to denying them just because they ask in an inappropriate way, but I would certainly make efforts to help them find better ways to ask, (and then I would expect them to utilize those methods in the future).

Robinson speaks of punishment methods to use to break manipulative behaviors...while I appreciate that sometimes parents do need to impose consequences, I am not a fan of punishment as such...I agree with him that it is important to always address problematic behavior, I just have different opinions about the best ways to address it. ☺

One very important point Robinson makes is that we as parents need to be careful that our expectations of our children are appropriate. As I've said before, I do believe that children (and adults) tend to live up to what is expected of them, but we do need to have realistic expectations. A third grader cannot do algebra, and a toddler cannot lift the milk jug to pass at the dinner table...on the other hand, a 5 year old can check in before going outside, and a teenager can schedule in advance to borrow the car.

For those parents who are firmly in the "gentle discipline" camp, this book will probably offend you greatly. When I first read it I thought it had a lot of good ideas, but as I said, my philosophy of parenting has shifted since then. I think that this book (like most parenting books I've read) has its good parts; however I've just covered them all for you, so now you don't need to read it yourself. ☺


Cynthia said...

I like the Parenting with Love and Logic approach. It sounds like some of what he advocates is similar.

I do find myself giving into the repeated requests form of manipulation. In fact, just the other day I had to point out to my husband that he was using that technique too to try and get out of an obligation he didn't want to go through with. He was embarrassed when he realized he was doing that. I guess the whole family knows that form of manipulating works on me!

Threads of Light said...

Great post, I really needed to read this. Thanks so much. I'm going to go over what you've written again soon so I can get my relationship with my children back on track. No more manipulation, hopefully not from them or from me.

Punishment...I'm not into that either. I think our own choices punish us, and that it's up to us as parents to redirect, to give instruction, to allow the child space where needed (away from tv, toys, friends, or whatever) to be lovingly taught whatever it is they are lacking.

My favourite points:
The child should take responsibility for his own actions.
Make sure the child knows that you love him.

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