Six Ways School Kids Manipulate Parents -- and What You Can Do About It

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By David Swanson

Your kid wants to stay up late, avoid homework, hang out with friends, and watch TV and play video games. In short, your school-aged child wants to do everything but go to bed early and do schoolwork. What's more, he has lots of clever ways to wear you down and get his way.

Here are six ways school kids manipulate parents, and what to do about each one.
Emotional Blackmail: This is when your child deliberately demonstrates an emotion that she knows will cause you discomfort. "I just wanted to watch the new episode, then I was going to do my homework. How come I can't have at least some fun before I do homework? You don't care about me!" What to do: Her emotional outburst is either a manipulative display, or she is genuinely sad and angry. Either way, acknowledge her feelings so she knows you care, but stick with your demand. Emotions are part of life.
Shutting Down: Your child will attempt to avoid dealing with an issue, such as getting in bed on a school night, by simply not responding. You tell him to turn off the video game, but ten minutes later he hasn't moved. This will go on indefinitely until you stop it. What to do: It's normal for kids to do what they want to do, and delay what they don't want to do. Give him a consequence and follow through with it, such as, "If you don't turn off the Xbox in five minutes, there will be no video games tomorrow."
Irrational Logic: This is when your child or teen tries to soften your reaction to a particular behavior by introducing irrelevant information into the discussion. "Why can't I stay out till eleven on a school night? I got all A's last year." What to do: Don't take the bait. Don't waste time explaining that one isn't related to the other. Stand firm.
Negotiation: Children are great at getting their way through striking a deal with parents. "Let me go to Sally's after school and I promise I'll do all my homework--and that book report too." What to do: Tell her you know she wants to have time to play, but she hasn't yet earned it. If she satisfies her end of the deal--homework and book report--she can earn that playdate.
Divide and Conquer: This is when your child attempts to get what he wants by exploiting weaknesses in your spousal relationship. "But Dad said I could watch the game with him as long as I do my Spanish vocab during the commercials." What to do: Discuss with your spouse ahead of time which types of decisions you want to share (e.g., homework, money, social activities), and then either consult with or defer to your spouse. If it falls in a grey area, tell your kid you need to think about it first.
Playing the Victim. Children are great at getting what they want by making you feel sorry for them. "I'm the only one in the house who never gets to go to a movie on weeknights." What to do: You need to separate the emotional content from whatever short-term goal the child is trying to obtain. Get her to talk about what that feels like to be the "only one" and let her know that you care about her feelings. Her short-term goal--of staying out late, however, is separate and unrelated. Don't back down.
David Swanson, Psy.D., is licensed clinical psychologist who specializes in children, teens, and families. His new book is Help! My Kid Is Driving Me Crazy: The 17 Ways Kids Manipulate Their Parents and What You Can Do About It (Perigee, Sept. 2009). Learn more about him at

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