Five Signs Your Child Is Manipulating You

Parenting Made Simple

Your kid is trying his best convinced you that he NEEDS a lollipop, and you give in, even though dinner is in an hour and you really don't want him to have it. Kids are really good at getting what they want, but not as good at asking for what they need. This is not meant to shame you. I get it. I have been there. My goal is to help you notice the signs of manipulation and obtain the vocabulary for identifying these behaviors. I hope this helps you to expand your tool kit and help make your parenting life a little easier.

Children, and athletes, thrive when they are given rules and structure. Of course, they also need loads of love, affection and attention. I am primarily a coach and strength trainer, but I love my 4 kids and I love spending time with them. It is challenging to be firm with children, and still feel like you are raising happy, well adjusted kids. Your child will only be able to manipulate you if you allow his or her behavior to be effective. The following are five signs your child is trying to manipulate a situation, and what you should do to regain control.

1. Badgering

Kids will ask for the same thing over and over again. This is my oldest son’s favorite manipulation tactic. He knows I provided a response, but he didn’t like my answer so he asks again and acts like he didn’t hear my first answer the first time. It goes something like this:

Child, “Can we go to the park?”

Parent, “No, it’s too rainy out for the park today.”

Child, “Please, can we go to the park?”

Parent, “No, I already answered your question, and I am not changing my answer.”

Child, “Wait, what? Can we go to the park?”

Stay firm and don’t give in when they continue to make the same request. Call the child out for badgering when they continue to make a request for something that you already responded to, and let them know that you are not going to change the response so they can stop asking.

2. Arguing

Once you have made a decision, don’t engage in an ongoing argument with a child to justify the decision. Once you have said, “no” there is nothing else that is going to matter to the child unless your response changes to, “yes!”. You can listen to a child who would like to express his or her argument, but do so without re-engaging in the matter being discussed. Be firm, and let the child know that you have made a decision, and no matter how long they continue to argue, the behavior is not going to be effective.

3. Non-response

You ask a child to pick up an article of clothing they left on the floor. No response. You ask the child why they are using a whining tone of voice. No response. It doesn’t matter if the question was confrontational or not. Although he was clearly within earshot, my son will claim he didn't hear the request. The child is manipulating you if he chooses to not to respond. We often ask our oldest son  to, “Please acknowledge that you heard the question”. Then request a response or action immediately.

4. Empty Threats

Make sure the consequences match the behavior. The child should feel the consequence now rather than later. A child knows when his parent is bluffing. You are not going to take the iPad for a whole month, and you will probably allow him to eat ice cream after dinner (even if he doesn't finish his meal). So the child is going to continue to pester his younger sibling as long as he doesn’t believe he will suffer any consequences. If your child is misbehaving, and you want him or her to have consequences for the behavior, make sure the consequence is fitting and you are prepared to follow through quickly.

5. Bribery Is Your Fallback

It is possible to gain compliance, especially from small children, with the promise of treats or sweets. Just be aware that your child is the one in control when you are offering a bribe. Why? Because they are getting a treat for doing something non-compliant. For example, you ask the child to get his shoes on. He doesn’t do what he is told (non-compliance). You offer a cookie if child puts his shoes on. The child follows directions and gets a cookie (manipulation).


There are no perfect parents, and no perfect parenting. Do your best to recognize these situations when your child is being manipulative. My kids were supposed to be getting ready for bed the other night and instead they ran over to my wife to get in some extra cuddles. She totally let them ignore my request and thats okay. I called her out for allowing the kids to manipulate her. She laughed. Cuddles from mom or dad might push bedtime back a few minutes, but sometimes the moment is more important than the rules.

Dane Miller

Dane Miller is the owner and founder of Garage Strength Sports Performance. He works with a select handful of clients on building comprehensive programs for fitness and nutrition. Several times a year he leads a workshop for coaches, trainers, and fitness enthusiasts. You can find Dane on Instagram @ghostfacedmillah

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