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.

Why Your Kids Need “Old”People in Their Lives

Ageism has always existed – otherwise God would not have had to command people to take care of their elderly parents. Over the centuries though, some cultures have realized the value of respecting older people and considering whatever wisdom they may have to share. Ours is not one of those cultures. To be quite fair, we should treat everyone with respect regardless of their age – as Christians it is one of our “top two” commands. And, I hasten to admit, not everyone grows wiser as they grow older – some just continue making poor choices and advising others to do the same. Throughout the Bible though, God commands older people to teach and mentor younger people and younger people to be willing to take advice and learn from them (when it matches God’s Word).

Perhaps you are reluctant to try and create opportunities for your children to spend time with older adults. You may think your schedule is already overbooked or that all the older people you know aren’t very wise… after all, they know nothing about technology or the latest trends. Before you close this post and continue isolating your children from “old” people, consider these thoughts on providing your children with lots of interactions with the senior citizen set.

  • Your children need to know the value of wisdom – especially wisdom from God. Wisdom that isn’t from God isn’t wisdom. (Godly wisdom can, however, can be shared by people who have rejected God – although they are often unaware from whence it came). Knowledge is not wisdom, although it is necessary to have knowledge to become wise. Tech savvy – or the lack thereof – has no relation to wisdom. Older people are not the only ones who can be wise, but there is a element of wisdom connected to life experience. Proverbs 1:7 reinforces that fools despise wisdom and that wisdom is rooted in the fear/respect of the Lord. Wisdom can protect them from making poor choices and reaping the negative consequences.
  • Teach your children that knowledge and wisdom should be actively sought. Wisdom isn’t going to just fill their heads because they ate the right foods, exercised or slept well. Pursuing wisdom – reading scripture, listening to wise, godly people and other active pursuits of knowledge and wisdom are needed to become wise.
  • Teach your children to recognize the signs that someone is wise. Thankfully, God gave us a pretty thorough list in James 3:17… godly wisdom is pure, peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere. Godly wisdom will never contradict the Bible. No Christian is perfect, but a wise Christian will regularly display these attributes – and so will their advice.
  • Help your children understand the value of life experience. Here is where older adults can help your children in all sorts of ways in addition to spiritually. Maybe after years of cooking, they have learned what ingredients can add something special to a dish or be substituted – and what happens when you don’t keep their advice in mind. Or they’ve learned a quicker way of doing something or a way to hold something together with paper clips or duct tape until you can get it fixed. Spiritually speaking, they have seen a lifetime of examples of people who did or did not obey God and what happened. They know from experience that disobeying and rejecting God never ends well.
  • Encourage your kids to find things in common with older people. Realizing they have things in common is a great first step into developing empathy, love and respect for older people.
  • Take advantage of the time to listen and mentor that many older adults have to share with your children. Today’s young people are in pain today in part because they have no one to listen to them and mentor them. The adults in their lives are too busy to give them much time and attention. Finding an older mentor for your children can give them the extra attention they need and someone to support the godly things you are telling them.
  • Find older people who are encouragers. Everybody could use another person in their lives who will encourage them. Keep your older friends aware of when your children have events or could use an encouraging conversation to keep trying.
  • Teach your children Paul’s formula for using people as inspiration. In 1 Corinthians 11:1, Paul advises readers to follow him only as he followed Christ. Even the most godly Christian people sin. Your children’s ultimate example should always be Christ. If they admire something about someone older, it is fine to use the person as inspiration – as long as the person was following Christ in what they did.

Make the time in your family calendar to spend time with “old” people. All of your lives may be richer because of the experience.

Are Your Conversations With Other Adults Hurting Your Children?

We need to bring back some old adages you don’t hear much any more. One I always thought was a little strange was, “Little pitchers have big ears”. I have to admit, I am still not sure what jugs with big handles have to do with the topic of eavesdropping children, but the adage should be repeated often to parents and other adults. Not following this wisdom (from a man named John Heywood in 1546) leads to more brokenness in children than most adults understand.

Many adults believe that conversations with other adults in front of small children are not understood by little ones. Other adults think that if they can’t physically see a child, then the child can’t hear them. Or that if children are engaged in an activity, they aren’t aware of what is being said. Most adults seem to have the mistaken belief that children will understand their sarcastic comments as humor or that the adults were just upset and venting their feelings rather than actually believing what they are saying to their peers. Or more commonly these days, they believe social media posts about their frustrations in parenting will never be seen by their children.

The truth is that little pitchers do indeed have big ears. They are very much aware of many of the negative things you say and write about them. If they don’t have access to some of that information now, they will seek it out or stumble upon it when they are a little older. Those words said in an attempt to update friends and relatives, to get advice from other parents or as an attempt at being funny can negatively impact your children’s self image and undermine your relationship with them. Sadly, for some children, those comments can also begin destroying their faith in God.

Most of the time you will never know this has happened. They won’t usually come to you and complain that you were talking about them in negative ways to your friends. They just hurt emotionally. If it happens often enough, those hurts will start collecting and grow into emotional scars that may impact them for the rest of their lives. (At times, one particularly hurtful comment can have the same impact.) No matter how pure your motives may have been or whether or not they understood the conversation or its context correctly, damage has been done. Damage you can’t repair, because you don’t even realize it is there.

This doesn’t mean you can’t vent in healthy ways to friends or family or get their parenting advice. In fact, you need to do those things to be the best Christian parent possible. The key is choosing the times and places these conversations occur. If you are about to say anything about your children that may sound to them as critical or may make them think that you somehow don’t love them, please be 100% sure they will not hear you or read what you have written or posted now, or in the future. (Note: If you are remembering past negative social media posts, take some time to delete them.)

If you realize they may have heard you or they confront you, apologize. Empathize with them by imaging how you would feel if you heard someone important to you talking about you negatively. Make amends if it is possible. Regularly say positive things about your children to other adults when you know they can hear you. Put affirming love notes on their pillow or in their lunch box. You love and adore your children – even when they frustrate or upset you. Just make sure they know it, too.

Fun Family Devotional on Friendship (With a Twist)

Quick. Name the Bible story most often used when discussing friendship with children and teens? If you guessed David and Jonathan, you are probably correct. Have you ever noticed though, that the story is often told from the perspective of the benefits David got from the friendship – namely getting advance notice from Jonathan that Saul wanted to kill him? What if we looked at the story – and its aftermath – from a different perspective … What kind of friend was David to Jonathan?

This is an important family devotional. Parents and ministries often spend a lot of time discussing how young people should choose friends who help them be more godly rather than encouraging them to disobey God. We may mention that they should have some of these same qualities to benefit their friends, but most of the focus is still on choosing “good” friends and not on becoming a great friend for others.

Call your children together and ask them what they remember about the story of Jonathan and David. If they don’t remember the details, go back and read over it again. Ask them how they know Jonathan was a good friend to David. Then ask them what kind of friend David was to Jonathan based on the story.

Read to them 2 Samuel 4:4 and 9:6-13. If you have teenagers and the time to dig a little deeper, you may also want to share the story in 2 Samuel 19:9-30 and 21:1-14. These two passages are more complex (and a bit gruesome), but show that David still respected the promises he had made to Jonathan, even after Jonathan’s death. Discuss how David show he valued his friendship with Jonathan in the way that he treated Mephibosheth. Remind them that the customs of the day would have demanded that David kill Mephibosheth as a possible threat to his kingship. Yet he and Mephibosheth both appeared to value the relationship between Jonathan and David more than money or power.

Ask your kids to list all of the qualities of a great friend. Have them draw a picture of a great friend. Encourage them to write descriptive words on their artwork to illustrate their definition of a great friend. Write down a master list of all of the words so everyone can see the complete list. If they miss some you believe are important, feel free to add your ideas to the list. Then ask them which of those qualities they believe they exhibit in their friendships. Are there any with which they struggle? What are some ways they could be a better friend?

If time allows, think of something nice your kids can do for their friends. Perhaps you can all work together to bake some cookies for their friends or make something they would appreciate. Encourage your children to put as much focus on being a good friend as they do in searching for good friends.

Teaching Your Kids How to Avoid Sinning in Their Boredom

Years ago there used to be a saying, ”Idle hands are the devil’s workshop.”. It was mostly said by parents to children who were inclined to get into trouble when they had too much free time. In some ways, I think it led to the idea of enrolling even very young children in organized outside activities for every waking moment of their lives. This over scheduling has created problems of its own.

By enrolling your children in activities planned, organized and executed by others, they never truly learn how to find worthwhile things to do with their free time. When they do have the rare free moment, they turn to their digital pacifier to relieve their boredom – which also comes with a host of problems. As strange as it sounds, your kids need you to teach them how to use free time in ways that restore them and hopefully are productive in some way.

God did not create your children – or any of us – for living lives of leisure. Even in the Garden of Eden, he put Adam to work. Jesus rested when he was here on Earth, but that rest was carefully planned to be truly restorative. He didn’t just sit there watching a long stream of YouTube videos. He spent intentional time with God and his disciples. It appears that Jesus spent his free time in ways that were either restorative or productive. Your children were created to connect with God through spiritual disciplines and produce in ways that point others to God. They were not created to be idle or to be constantly entertained by others.

Unfortunately, your children have probably never been taught how to follow the example of Jesus in how they spend their free time – not at church, school or perhaps even at home. So when they get bored, they may find themselves defaulting to the normal “entertainments” teens and young adults have used for centuries – alcohol, drugs, sex or other unhealthy and/or ungodly pursuits.

Time and time again, I have seen the rare teen or young adult who was taught to find fun, wholesome and even productive activities. They not only seem to avoid getting mixed up in the fallback pursuits, but often lead their peers in participating in these better options.

So how do you help your kids learn how to use their free time well? These ideas will get you started.

  • Make sure your kids have plenty of free time. They need the time to find things to do without someone planning it for them.
  • Make sure your home has some basics. If you can afford it, have art supplies and books that would interest them in your home. Perhaps a musical instrument to play or some basic sports equipment like frisbees and balls. If money is tight, try the public library and thrift or yard sales. If they literally don’t have other options that are approved and easily available, they are more likely to make poor choices.
  • Start small when they are young and give more freedom as they age. Children who have never had to fill free time will inevitably turn to devices or claim they are bored when they do have freedom. Don’t tell them what to do. Ask them to list some options they may have to amuse themselves. If they claim to not have anything, offer to give them chores to relieve their boredom! If you find them a few minutes later on a device or getting into trouble, redirect by asking them to choose a different activity. Over time, they should be able to find ways to amuse themselves without your help.
  • Let them help research and plan family outings and vacations. Teach them how to find those obscure, fun, often free things to do in any place. Often Googling terms like “off the beaten path” “free things to do” or “Atlas Obscura” plus the name of the location will give them lots of ideas (Be aware that some of these sites are paid to promote bars. Discuss why bar hopping is not a wise way to spend free time or prescreen sites before allowing your kids to use them for researching activities.)
  • Have fun! An activity doesn’t have to be boring or educational to be a good alternative to less wise options. Go to places at times that are just pure fun. Or go see weird roadside attractions to find the most unique or find the restaurant with the best key lime pie in the world. Teach them Christians can have fun without sinning.
  • Don’t forget spiritual disciplines and serving others. Add meaning and purpose to their lives and strengthen their faith by encouraging them to participate in spiritual disciplines like prayer and meditating on scripture as well as serving others with part of their free time.

Have fun with it, but make sure your kids are well versed in finding godly, productive fun before they leave your home. It can help them avoid sinning in their boredom.