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Tricks Kids Use to Get Their Way

Humans exhibit goal-oriented behaviors.  Consciously or unconsciously, we set goals, and we set out to achieve them.  Kids do this too . . . but kids need to be taught which goal-oriented behaviors are socially acceptable and which are not.  What follows is a list of common tricks kids use to get their way and what parents can do to respond appropriately to these tricks.*

  • 1. Putting Mom and Dad against each other. When you and your spouse are being cast in potentially opposing roles, do not criticize your spouse’s position (or alleged position) to your kids. Instead, discuss the matter privately with your spouse. Come to an agreement between the two of you. Then, meet jointly with whichever of your kids is the center of the matter at hand and present a united front. Use “we” instead of “I” when referencing decisions made (i.e., “We decided that you . . .”). It is important that your kids know that you and your spouse will not let differences of perspective alter the united parental front.
  • 2. Failing to disclose pertinent information, misleading, or outright lying. When you have reason to believe that your kids are failing to disclose pertinent information, misleading, or outright lying, you need to ask probing questions. For example, “So, am I understanding correctly that Johnny’s parents will be present during this activity?” If appropriate, you may wish to ask probing questions of others as well. For example, you may call Johnny’s parents to confirm that they will be present during the activity. If you find that your son or daughter has indeed been less than forthcoming or honest with you, follow up with him/her. Discuss the difference between what he/she said and what the truth is. Discuss the importance of trust. If this breech of trust was particularly significant, or if it is recurrent, you should implement redirective techniques such as time-outs, grounding, etc.
  • 3. Asking for permission when Mom or Dad is distracted. If you are distracted, refrain from answering questions that you cannot take the time to think through first. Tell your kids that you will think about the issue they have raised and get back to them in __period of time__.
  • 4. Manipulating using emotion (tears, tantrums, etc.). If your kids cry or throw fits to get their way, be strong and don’t give in to the emotional manipulation. Discuss appropriate behaviors. Hold your kids accountable for behavior that is inappropriate. (Note: the first several times that your kids attempt to get their way by emotional manipulation, it may be tough for you. However, if you stay your course, your kids will eventually stop using this technique as they will determine it to be unsuccessful at achieving their goals.)
  • 5. Wearing parents down by sheer repetition. If your kids keep asking the same questions over and over, it’s time to discuss with your kids the series of similar questions that they have asked. For example, you could say, “I believe you’ve asked me that question at least a dozen times in the last three days. I understand that you want a kitty, but Daddy is allergic to kitties. I know this is hard for you to understand, but you need to let this issue go. I am sorry to disappoint you because I love you and don’t want to see you feeling sad. However, on this issue, you simply cannot have a kitty. We can take you to visit Aunt Helen, who has a kitty that you can play with. But you cannot have a kitty of your own.”

These are but a few of the tricks kids use to get their way.  Consistent parenting with an eye on the long-term effects of today’s parental choices can turn short-term pain (dealing with these tricks) into long-term gain (kids who seek to achieve their goals in ways that are socially acceptable).

*Note: when your kids are expressing a strong desire for something, regardless of the manner in which the request is made (socially acceptably or not), it is best to determine what is driving this desire in your kids.  For example, if your son wants a kitty, it may be because he is lonely.  The real issue, then, isn’t whether or not to get a kitty: it is what to do to address how your son is feeling.

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