The other day I had an interesting chat with a very concerned parent about the “niceness” of their kid. For privacy sake let’s call the child Susan. Susan is a well spoken pre-teen and according to her parent, she was being “too nice”… which seems like a pretty crazy problem to have with your child. I mean, a polite, helpful child, who seems to be overly aware of other peoples feelings and always eager to do the right thing, should be something to be celebrated, right? And it has been… Susan’s parents have always been overly proud (and other adults very impressed) with her. But alarm bell’s started going off when Susan was overheard telling a bunch of other kids “No! You’re not allowed to be helpful. That’s MY thing!” Susan was also overheard explaining, in detail, that she knows how to “control” adults by saying the right thing, or crying at the right times. “Don’t worry, leave her to me!” She would say, in reference to how she was going to trick her grandmother to do what she wants her to do.
With all of this in mind, the next time I saw Susan (as always, being super kind and helpful and eager to please) I suddenly saw something else there. “Oh, she’s such a wonderful child!” an aunty exclaimed, after Susan (very loudly) said that she was going to comfort a friend who had gotten hurt. I mean, wanting to comfort the hurt friend wasn’t the concern. Making a big show of it was. I also began noticing how Susan only did nice things when other people were looking and then made sure to mention exactly what she did, so that she could get praise. Her language also changed around certain people. For example, around her grandparents it was all sugar sweet, but around others it was the total opposite. Susan also enjoyed getting friends and playmates into trouble, and then acted as if she had nothing to do with it afterwards. There’s a name for this, I thought to myself…. what is it now again?
Uhmmm… oh ya…
I totally got it. I understood her parent’s concern. It became really difficult to reprimand the child who pretty much had everyone wrapped around her finger. If Susan was caught doing something wrong, her “I’m sorry’s” were totally on point and the response of everyone else around them would discourage actual punishment because surely Susan did not mean to do it… there must’ve been a mistake! She’s such a WONDERFUL child, after all! It’s hard when there’s a problem but noone else sees it as a problem. Calling your kid out on being “too nice” could make you come across as just being mean. Who wants that? You know?
What do you say to a parent who is concerned that their child is trying to manipulate them? I mean, Susan is no “Chucky” and hasn’t tried to burn the house down or push a sibling from a wall, or anything wack like that. But because of Susan’s (very clever) behavior, she had managed to secure favor in the eyes of adults. It was all part of the tactic.
It’s obvious that the manipulation stems from another root… a root that needs to be nipped in the bud before this broken child becomes an angry adult. But it also made me think about motive. Our kids need to learn about motive and intention… the WHY behind doing things, especially in this era of “entitlement” when feeding the poor on Nelson Mandela Day could be all about the photo op and not about being a light in dark places. And let’s be honest, kids are not the only guilty ones. Adults are especially good at putting on a front to get what they want. Ever spend quality time with your family so that you could Instagram it? Ever register for Santa Shoebox because everyone else is doing it and it’s so fun to put stuff in a shoebox? Ever visit your aunty in hospital to show face and to fake concern? Social media has caused us to live a life of manipulation (photo edit much?) and we act like it’s okay (subliminal status update much?) when it’s not really okay (viral share much?). How is our behavior any different to Susans? Makes you think…
Have you had to deal with a manipulative child? Any advice?