Teaching Your Children About Manipulation

Children seem to be born knowing how to manipulate others. Studies have shown even relatively young babies can learn to manipulate adults with their cries. While no one would accuse an infant of being manipulative, it can be pretty easy for children to realize that certain behaviors will get others to do what you want them to do.

Left unaddressed, manipulation can quickly become a standard way of operating in life. While your children may feel as if they are getting everything they want using their manipulation tactics of choice, they are actually losing something far more valuable – healthy, loving relationships in their lives. It is important that parents not only recognize, but also point out and correct their children when they attempt to manipulate others.

First, we need to understand what types of behaviors are used to manipulate others. Some of these are particularly common in children, while others are more typical of hard core adult manipulators. (As your children reach dating age, they need to understand and be able to recognize these behaviors as they are often warning signs of a potentially abusive person in a romantic relationship.) Here are the behaviors most experts list as manipulative:

  1. Lying
  2. Denying something is true
  3. Crying and emotional outbursts like tantrums (It’s important to note that not all crying is manipulative. A child crying from hunger, pain, etc. is not being manipulative and should have his or her needs met and/or be comforted.)
  4. Passive aggressive behaviors
  5. Gas lighting (Trying to convince the other person an alternate reality is true, usually wherein the other person caused the gas lighter to behave in a negative way.)
  6. Silent treatment
  7. Threats
  8. Name calling
  9. Extreme or unmerited criticism
  10. Over reaction
  11. Verbal abuse
  12. Yelling
  13. Cursing
  14. Withholding affection
  15. “Love bombing” (over the top romantic gestures in a new relationship – often a key warning sign of a narcissist and/or abusive person)
  16. Blaming
  17. Whining

See a few behaviors that sound familiar? Since manipulation is rarely dealt with in parenting, chances are pretty strong you were never corrected for manipulating others as a child and use some manipulative behaviors yourself. So why does manipulation cause problems in relationships? Why should you take the time and trouble to correct and teach your children or clean up your own manipulative behaviors – especially when they can be so helpful in getting us what we want?

It is important to note as Christians two important factors. The first is that many manipulation techniques at their heart are some form of lying. The Bible tells us in multiple places that God abhors lying and liars. While that alone is problematic, the other issue is that God calls us to love other people the way He loves us – with agape love. Agape, or the highest form of pure love, seeking the best for others – would never try to manipulate others for selfish desires (or even under the guise of in the best interest of others). Manipulation is just not something a Christian should be known for doing.

Even secular researchers have a rather lengthy list of the problems that can be caused when one person manipulates another – especially on a regular basis.

  1. The manipulator is known as a liar.
  2. It is difficult to trust someone who manipulates others.
  3. Others may change their behaviors to satisfy the manipulator without changing the underlying attitudes or beliefs the manipulator really wanted to change.
  4. Instead of having the joy attached to earning or deserving positive things, manipulators know they actually tricked others into giving them to them.
  5. Others begin to doubt themselves and feel anxious around manipulators.
  6. It takes away the ability of others to voice their true feelings, emotions and/or beliefs.
  7. Others feel as if they are always “walking on eggshells” around manipulators and can never truly relax and be themselves.

If you want your children to live the Christian life God wants for them – including having healthy, loving relationships – you need to teach them about manipulation and help them eradicate it from their lives. And since your children often imitate you – take the time to rid your life of manipulation as well.

Fun Family Devotional About Love

Valentine’s Day is an interesting holiday. It is supposed to be about “true” love, but often seems like it is more about buying flowers and candy at the last minute so someone won’t get angry. Often love is left entirely out of the equation.

Your children are going to see, hear and read a lot of confusing messages about love during their lifetimes. It is critical that they are able to filter all of those messages through God’s definition of love. You can start by having a fun family devotional about love.

Call your family together and start by asking them to name someone they love. Depending upon their ages, they may mention a family member, a friend or someone they like romantically. Then ask them to name someone who loves them. Ask them to explain the ways they know that the person loves them. After they have all shared, ask them to name other ways people can show they love someone.

Explain that in the primary language in which the New Testament was written, there are actually several words for love. One word represents brotherly love, like that they may have for a friend. Another word stands for romantic love. A third word, agape, is the Greek word used for the love God has for us and God wants us to have for Him and for other people.

Agape love is considered the highest form of love. It is a sacrificial love that transcends and persists regardless of circumstances. Some refer to it as unconditional love. It is like the love you have for them. You might not like some of the choices they make, but you will always love them and want what is best for them.

Love is an abstract topic that is hard for anyone to understand – especially children who are still concrete thinkers. Thankfully God has given us lots of scriptures to paint a clearer picture of agape love. Read 1 Corinthians 13 (preferably in an NIrV version to make it easier to understand). Ask your children to list some of the ways love is described in this chapter. Can they think of a real life example of someone doing that to show love for someone else? What about a time they have shown someone love by doing each of those things?

Now for the fun part. Ask your children to name someone who may not feel very loved at the moment. What are some things your family can do to make them feel loved? Your family may decide to put a lot of effort into making one person feel loved or do something smaller for several people.

You may even want to introduce your children to the five love languages – physical touch, words of affirmation, acts of service, quality time and gifts. Ask them to name their two favorite languages. Which love languages would mean the most to the person or people you have decided to show your love? How can your family love them in those ways?

You can easily extend this devotional by periodically looking at other scriptures about love and seeing what additional information you can learn from them. Discuss various Bible stories and how the people in them did or did not show love for God and the other people in the story. It is easy to make love a part of any family devotional. Make sure that each time you discuss love, your family also does something active to show love to someone. Make love part of who your family is at its core.

Your Children’s Search for Love

There are a lot of times in parenting that are scary. Like bringing your first child home from the hospital. The first time your child gets sick. The first day of school. Perhaps one of the scariest is when your children start dating and thinking about marriage. While they are often naive and blinded by “love”, your life experience tells you dating is a potential minefield for your children. The wrong choices can negatively impact the rest of their lives.

Yet there are things you can do years before your child even thinks about dating and marriage that will help make this minefield a lot less dangerous for your child. Here are some of our favorites.

  • Give your children lots of love – using all five love languages. By now you know the list – physical touch, quality time, words of affirmation, acts of service and gifts. Your kids each have a couple of favorites, but they need to have them all from you as often as possible (and no, not showering them with gifts). Listen to tales of romantic trauma and very often there is a reference to feeling unloved by parents as a child. You can’t spoil your kids with love – spoiling is a product of a lack of enforced healthy boundaries and equating only gifts with love. Your kids need lots and lots of the other four love languages so they are not operating from a love deficit. Trying to fill that love deficit that was meant to be filled by parents is where bad romantic choices often begin.
  • Teach your children how much God loves them. There is a space in one’s heart that is meant to be filled with God’s love for us. Your children need to learn about God and understand His love for them on a deep level. Once again, this is not a permissive ”do whatever you want” love, but a love that wants what is best for each of your children – which includes obeying God’s commands. If your children understand and feel the love God has for them, yet another possible love deficit is filled appropriately.
  • Teach your children what real true love is. Love is not what they may see on reality shows, movies, romance novels or sadly often in the world around them. Real love is not based primarily on lust. It is agape love like God has for us. It is love that encourages one to be a strong Christian. That is supportive in good times and bad. It very often is said that you should marry your best friend and that’s not a bad description. True love is for a lifetime – and loves even during those times where liking one’s spouse is a challenge!
  • Model a healthy marriage. No marriage is perfect. In fact, seeing you and your spouse disagree and resolve those disagreements is healthy for your children. If you are struggling, get help. If you have bad habits in how you treat one another, break them. Whether they mean to or not, your children will often mirror the marriage behaviors they saw growing up. Make sure your children see healthy, godly behaviors. When you make a mistake – admit it and apologize to your children as well as your spouse.
  • Talk about God’s perfect plan for marriage. This is considered controversial by many, but it shouldn’t be. God’s plans are perfect. When we deviate from them for any reason, there are often negative consequences. We may not always understand or agree with everything God requires and people sometimes take a good command and make it toxic in how they implement it, but your children need to trust that God knows best. Thankfully, there are a lot of explanations and stories in the Bible of how disobeying God can cause marital issues. Share those with your children as well as any of your own insights as to why you believe God’s commands help marriages become stronger.
  • Don’t rush your children. Nothing is more disturbing than hearing a parent encourage a three year old child to kiss a child of the opposite sex as their “girl friend” or “boy friend”. Be careful about pushing your children to date or participate in sexualized behavior. Honestly, I think dating should probably begin when the child is old enough for marriage to be a possibility. Before then hanging out in mixed gender groups is a great way to get to know someone of the opposite sex without the possibility of being tempted to go too far sexually. It also can help them refine what they do and do not want in a future spouse. (When your children are old enough to marry, don’t rush them. Keep reassuring them that it is better to never marry than to rush into a marriage with the “wrong” person.)
  • As they approach dating age, talk about “red flags”. I had a friend who married a “player” as a young adult. He soon had an affair that destroyed their marriage. When I finally met him decades later, his player behavior was so obvious I was surprised she hadn’t noticed it when they were dating. She correctly pointed out that as a naive teen, player behavior can look attractive. They are often charismatic and “love bomb” you. Talk about red flags for abuse and other negative behaviors that can destroy marriages. Make sure to also discuss the positive traits that make someone a good spouse. The more clear the picture is of the person they want to marry, the more likely it is that they will choose that person.

There are many other topics you will want to discuss regarding love, dating and marriage. Starting with helping them understand what real love is can make the rest of the discussions much easier as they choose quality, Christian people to date and marry. It can make that potential minefield more like a walk in the park.

Hidden Skills Your Kids Need for Better Relationships

I don’t know if Satan has a top ten list of the ways he tempts people to sin, but if he does, I would imagine relationships would be on it. Your kids have lots of relationships they are trying to navigate – you (their parents), siblings, other relatives, friends, neighbors, coaches, teachers, ministers and more. With their lack of knowledge and life experience, it can be easy for them to make poor choices in how they handle the difficulties that often arise between two people.

As Christian parents, you are probably spending a lot of time reminding them to be kind and loving. You are hopefully having conversations about which words and behaviors are loving and kind when interacting with others. You are probably spending time correcting them when they make poor choices in how they treat others. Did you know though, that there are some special skill sets and habits you can teach your kids that will help them continue to improve in the ways they interact with others even long after they are adults?

If you can work with your kids on these areas, it is much more likely they will avoid developing bad and even sinful habits in how they interact with others.

  • Keen awareness of the emotional states of others. There are a few people in the world who are what is known as an ”open book”. They are extremely open and honest. If you say something that hurts their feelings, they will usually let you know immediately and give you an opportunity to resolve any misunderstandings in the moment. Most people, however, are emotional poker players. They are afraid to be vulnerable enough to share their emotions with someone. That can be good, if they are doing it in an effort to have self control over their words and actions. It can be toxic when they never let the person who has upset them know so they can make amends or they tell everyone else how angry they are with someone who literally has no clue anything is wrong. Teaching your kids how to read facial expressions, tone of voice, body language and tells can help them recognize when someone might be upset with them. They can then be proactive in checking to verify the emotional state of the person and correcting any issues. Being aware of the emotional states of others can also help them choose times for having difficult conversations when everyone is emotionally calm and not already upset, tired, etc.
  • Ask for feedback. This is scary for everyone. We all know we aren’t perfect, but who really wants to hear a list of one’s faults and mistakes? Feedback from others, however, is the quickest way to correct mistakes and grow – assuming the feedback is trustworthy. Help your kids find people they can trust to be kind, but honest about how they interact with others. Often a teacher, coach, best friend or relative can point out little things your kids can change in the way they treat others. Remind them to reject any criticism that would have them disobey God (Like ”Everybody would like you a lot better if you would do drugs with us.”) or is problematic in other ways. Often little things like taking a step back when talking to others or letting the other person talk first don’t require a lot of practice, but can make the people with whom they are talking feel more loved.
  • Spend time in reflection. Encourage them to spend time replaying difficult interactions in their heads. Not to be overly critical of themselves or others, but to identify things they did well and the things they still need to practice. In the middle of a conversation it can be hard to determine what made things turn sour. Replaying it later can help your kids figure out what they need to change the next time they are having a similar conversation.
  • Ask for help. Some kids are socially awkward. They aren’t really being unkind, but it might seem that way to others who don’t know them as well. When your kids feel as if they are getting negative reactions from more than one person, but can’t seem to make needed corrections on their own, they may benefit from some coaching. Usually an adult is best suited to analyze the situation and help figure out any changes that may need to happen. For children who really struggle, reader’s theater social scripts can help. You can find plenty online for free that illustrate a positive way to handle the interactions that are a struggle. Your child can read through these scripts with you or others until the desired changes are comfortable.
  • Conflict resolution skills training. The worst parenting advice consistently given by ”experts” is to let kids work out their own conflicts. Children need to be actively taught strong conflict resolution skills and be given practice in using them. This skill alone can save them a lot of relational difficulties. We have a free printable parenting sheet walking you through a method on our website that you can access here.
  • Analyze the interactions Jesus had with others. Sometimes the world’s view of how to treat others isn’t very kind or loving. Your kids will be a lot less confused if they regularly go back and read about the encounters Jesus had with others. How did he interact with people who were hurting or upset? It can also help if they memorize passages like the fruit of the Spirit and 1 Corinthians 13 so they can remind themselves in the moment of how God wants them to treat others. (Repeating ”love is patient, love is kind” over and over in my head while dealing with someone difficult has helped my own self control more than once!)

So the next time you become exasperated your kids aren’t being as loving and kind towards others as you had hoped, take a step back and teach them these skills. It might just be exactly what they need.

Tips for Stopping Parenting Arguments Before They Start

The two most common topics of arguments between spouses are supposedly finances and parenting. It doesn’t have to be that way. Parents, especially Christian parents, need to have a strong game plan in parenting. If not, it is going to be difficult to help your kids build strong spiritual foundations and grow to their godly potential. Without a plan, arguments will become the norm as you “negotiate” through parenting choices in the moment. Life is stressful enough without having constant arguments over parenting decisions.

My husband and I had very few parenting disagreements as we were raising our daughter. We argued about other things, but for the most part we avoided parenting arguments. Here are some things we learned along the way that can help you and your spouse avoid arguing over parenting.

  • Get on the same page ASAP. It’s best to do this before your kids are born, but it’s never too late. The thing to remember is that no matter how similar your backgrounds, you and your spouse were parented in different ways. Some of those differences are minor and some are major. While you may want to change some things your parents did, you will most likely parent your kids how your parents parented you. This becomes problematic when those differences between your two families conflict. The best solution is to pick a parenting book or course and both read it or take it. Agree you will follow that plan unless you both disagree with some aspect of it. Then you have a plan you have both agreed to follow unless you both agree some aspect of it isn’t working.
  • Plan ahead. Sit down with your spouse before your kids reach the next stage of development and discuss how you want to handle common issues. The thing about parenting is your kids are constantly changing. This means your parenting needs to change with your kids. Many milestones, like driving, occur at certain ages. It’s easier to parent through these changes, if you decide a couple of months or even years before a milestone how you want to handle it.
  • Don’t get stuck in your “good cop” or “bad cop” roles. So many couples allow one parent to just be the “fun” parent and force the other to handle all of the correction and discipline. All sorts of plausible justifications are given for the dynamic, but at the end of the day allowing one parent to always just have fun with the kids and forcing the other to do all of the correction and discipline just isn’t fair. If you have anger issues, get professional help. Otherwise, share the responsibility and the fun equally.
  • Stop with the excuses and whining and change the dirty diapers! Once again, this unfair dynamic is all too common. Often it is excused because the mom is nursing or one is a stay at home parent. The other parent has all sorts of reasons why he or she has only changed 20 out of 10,000 dirty diapers or the other parent is always the one cleaning up the vomit or any of the other less pleasant aspects of parenting. Not doing your fair share of the unpleasant or boring parts of parenting will eventually cause your spouse to become irritated. And then angry. And possibly even resentful. Which is a breeding ground for all sorts of arguments. Some of these arguments may seem unrelated to parenting, but have their roots in a frustrated spouse. Your kids belong to both of you and it’s not fair to ask one parent to handle all of the hard parts of parenting, while the other only parents when there is something fun involved.
  • Find a mediator. If there is some area of parenting that causes constant arguments and seems to never resolve itself, consider getting a mediator. It doesn’t have to be a professional Christian counselor, although in some cases that may be necessary. Often an older Christian couple who has raised children who are active, productive Christians as adults can give you the godly parenting advice you need. (It is crucial you find a couple who has raised children who are strong Christians, as they have a positive parenting outcome.)

This tips won’t prevent every argument between you and your spouse, but they can help drastically reduce them. Life is stressful enough. Do the work to minimize the amount of arguing in your home.