Child Manipulation Tactics When Parents Are Not Around


Sometimes your little ones will attempt to avoid certain situations intentionally and find ways to get around them. This means anything from acting out in public when they’re told something they don’t want to hear to demonstrating bad behavior with teachers in your absence.


Navigating child manipulation means educating yourself about what to expect so you can get ahead of the situation – and have an appropriate response when it arises.


At, the No. 1 source for research-based parenting courses, we’re dedicated to helping you become the best parent possible. That’s why we’re sharing different methods to spot manipulative child behavior symptoms, and to address those signs once you notice them.


Shedding Tears


One of the most popular child manipulation tactics is crying for more attention. Your children likely do this to take control from an adult to get what they want. For example, a relative might be grocery shopping with your little one, who wants candy to bring home. Although you’ve made it clear the child isn't allowed to have sweets (unless you’re there and give permission), the child might decide to start crying when you’re not around, which will tempt the adult in charge to give in and stop the outburst. This behavior is one of the manipulative child behavior symptoms to look for because the child knows how their crying will affect others. Children may perceive the situation this way, but an adult shouldn’t prove them right.


You might encounter another situation when your child starts sobbing in class because the little one doesn't want to participate in an activity with other students. The teacher will probably know the child’s intention and try to offer a special role, or let the kid skip the activity. That said, it’s on you to make sure it’s addressed at home once you hear about it. We recommend speaking with your tot about ways to handle frustrations in a productive way in your absence. As a parent, you should help your little one work through emotional storms with problem solving and calming strategies. This will ultimately help them consider their actions before acting on them.


Throwing Tantrums


Some children take crying fits to new heights and have loud tantrums in public places — which is another example of child manipulation. When your little ones escalate a disagreement between them and an adult (and choose to act out), it can be difficult for the adult to manage the situation with all eyes on them. For instance, if Emily wants a headband to go with a new dress you got her, and her big sister’s already said no, count on the situation going downhill within minutes. Her sister’s attempts to steer the situation in the right direction facing stares of doubt, judgment and disapproval from others can pose a challenge. Moreover, Emily’s sister might be worried about handling it the right way because she doesn’t want to discipline a child that’s not hers.


The best way to avoid a temper tantrum is to set special rules in place the child must follow no matter what. Explain what’s planned for the day ahead of time so the child can know what to expect before it happens. Next, carry an assortment of things you know your child enjoys in case the kid gets upset. Include the child’s favorite snacks, toys or even shows they can watch on your phone. You can also tackle this problem by turning running errands into a game that will engage the child. Games like “I Spy” or finding things that start with the first letter of their name make kids less emotional and prevent bad behavior during your trip.


If all else fails, giving your tots a few minutes of your undivided attention might be just what they need. Parents may overlook the rollercoaster of emotions toddlers may feel, especially in their early developmental stages. Make sure those concerns are addressed with your child after you hear about the outburst. Consider asking questions like, “What would make you feel better?” or “How can we fix this?” so they learn the conversational aspect of working through tantrums. Your little one also needs a lot of love and affection to affirm certain situations are okay, even when they seem like they aren’t in their eyes. Once you hear about the tantrum, give them a warm hug or high-five so they know you’re there to make things better.


Hurtful Words


Child manipulation can also occur when your little one makes negative comments towards others after the adults in charge have put their foot down. This defense tactic is used to steer adults away from what they asked the child to do. For instance, Sally already knows the bedtime routine you’ve established by heart, but insists on asking your babysitter to finish watching her favorite show. The proper response would be to reinforce your rule and encourage Sally to begin her regular nightly routine. Instead, she suddenly decides to leverage the situation to her advantage by saying, “You’re not my mom.” This is a sign of child manipulation – and a form of disrespect towards her authority figure. Because Sally knows she can redirect attention from herself, she will attempt to get an emotional response to get what she wants.


If your babysitter or other authority figure tells you about a similar scenario, let your child know it’s important to listen to the person in charge – even when you’re not around. Consistency is key with parenting. If you’ve put a specific bedtime in place, your child should continue to honor that. Ultimately, establishing consistency will let your child know these tactics won’t work. Eventually, the kid will learn to respect adult decisions. It will also teach your little one that saying mean things to people won’t solve anything, this may dissuade manipulative child behaviors symptoms in the future


Silent Treatment


At this stage, children should know when they are being spoken to and when it’s time to give a response. So if your child chooses to ignore you, it’s likely a sign of a manipulative child. Interpret actions as willful defiance when a child doesn't make an attempt to follow through with a request. If you’ve eliminated distractions, made direct eye contact, and given short, clear instructions, you know that your child is intentionally choosing not to listen to you. To avoid being ignored, get on the child’s level and make it known what should and shouldn’t be done.


Let’s say that Adam ignored his teacher after she tried asking him to pick up after himself and you hear about it at the end of the school day. Communicate with him at eye level once you’re home and explain what he should do when someone asks something of him. You should also confirm he heard you by having Adam repeat everything back to you. You can also help your child establish a good relationship with the teacher to encourage cooperation in school. Try making the teacher a part of your child’s life by talking about her. You can say things like, “Mrs. Smith told me about the nice picture you drew in class” or “Do you want to bring Mrs. Smith a gift for Teacher Appreciation Week?” Constantly mentioning Mrs. Smith to your little one should change the emotional response towards her and encourage better behavior.


If neither of these strategies produces the desired outcome, follow through with consequences. It’s important to teach your little ones that manipulating others is unacceptable and they will lose privileges because of it. Once your children have grasped that, they will learn to avoid taking that route moving forward. As a result, they will likely refrain from manipulative child behavior symptoms in the future.




A manipulative child will also try to seize control by ignoring adults and constantly asking the same thing – even when the child already knows what the answer is. Children do this to test adults’ boundaries and see if they’ll change their responses. That’s because your tot’s goal is to wear the adult down. If you’re in the car running errands with your little one, for instance, and your child asks about going to the playground when the child knows you’re headed somewhere else, respond by saying, “Not today, but we’ll go another time.” Child manipulation occurs when your child continually asks about going to the playground to get the desired response.


Any adult would instinctively take the kid to the playground to avoid the constant badgering and give into the manipulative child’s request. This not only doesn’t solve anything, but also won’t teach your little one how to respectfully address adults. In fact, a child will continue this manipulative child behavior until the adult gives in. Prevent that from taking place by having your child accept what you say, no matter what.


Teach children to accept adult decisions without acting out by calling them out for badgering once it’s brought to your attention – and letting them know their behavior won’t change anything. Teach your little ones to ask for what they want nicely. If things can’t happen on your children’s time, teach them how to approach frustrating situations. For example, you can tell them, “It’s important to ask adults nicely and if the answer is no, then it’s final.” Explain this concept by using role play to demonstrate how to treat others how they would like to be treated. This will help your child grasp a new perspective and learn more about cause and effect. As a result, your children will understand how to communicate what they’d like to do in the future — especially when you’re not there.    


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