There are two categories of parents (I love being overly-generic): those who think their kids manipulate them and those who don’t. Both have problems.
I tend to believe the best of my kids, to think their motives are pure and if they’re crying, it’s because they are legitimately hurt. The problem is, sometimes I am not firm with things because really, they HAVE learned to play me. They have learned that I’ll rush in to help if they act more dramatic than they really feel.
My husband, on the other hand, abhors being manipulated (which caused a lot of fun conversations as newlyweds because I was manipulating him without even realizing it). So he sees it in every little action, like innocent little girl tears. His mantra is, “If you feel something, control it.” Mine? “If you don’t feel, something is wrong.”
So for me, the trouble is pinpointing inappropriate emotional behavior and manipulation, and I think I’ve finally found the litmus test. When I cry, do I hope other people respond to me? Am I hurt when they don’t notice? That desire for attention is a good indication I’m not controlling myself in an appropriate way (at best), or am being manipulative (at worst). The same goes for our kids. If they express emotion to work through their own feelings but aren’t trying to make a scene, we can let them process the way they need to, offering assistance or comfort or counsel if appropriate. But if they’re looking for a certain response from us, or hoping for a change in their circumstances, it’s a chance for us to teach them the dishonesty in that; guilt isn’t the way to make people do what we want them to do.
Recently I was talking to my little girl about manipulation, and later that day, she caught me in the act. I wanted her to choose a certain activity, and she could tell by the way I worded my request that I was playing on her emotions. Little mirrors, these sunshines of mine. 🙂 But also, the next day, she caught herself manipulating her little sister in the same way and was able to face her wishes honestly and without an inappropriate emotional response.
We’re going to work on this emotional stuff together, little by little, now that we have a way to distinguish between what’s appropriate and what might just be manipulative.
How are you wired? Do you respond emotionally or logically? Is it more natural for you to express emotion or hold it back?
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