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What Makes Toddlers Manipulative?

by Becky Swain , studioD

When manipulative behavior enters your tiny toddler’s behavioral repertoire, change requires identifying the source of the problem. A host of developmental issues colors a toddler’s behavior. You can diminish manipulative behavior by understanding how these issues contribute to problematic behavior. Additionally, parents can implement consistent responses to manipulative behavior and recognize their own role in a toddler’s unacceptable behavior.

Provide Disciplinary Consistency

From your toddler's vantage point, nothing stays the same. For example, your toddler’s emotions may swing erratically as he seems overwhelmed by strong feelings that he has not learned to regulate. Similarly, your toddler’s poorly controlled impulses may commandeer his original agenda. The frustration that ensues creates behavioral challenges. When parents respond inconsistently to unacceptable behavior, toddlers learn to respond inconsistently to parental interventions. As a result, they may attempt to manipulate parents. Toddlers are less likely to use manipulation when parents demonstrate that their response to inappropriate behavior remains consistent.

Eliminate Negotiation

Engaging in negotiation with your toddler opens a Pandora’s box filled to the brim with opportunities for manipulative behavior. Loving parents want to validate their child’s feelings and work to build their child’s self-esteem. Parents can achieve these objectives without permitting negotiation. For example, parents can say, “I understand that you feel very angry, but hitting is never OK.” Negotiation obstructs the structure and consistency that benefit your toddler in his daily experiences, recommends the child development site ZerotoThree.org.

Coping With Toddler Tantrums

Your toddler may use tantrum behavior as a tool to manipulate outcomes. His newly developed motor skills and an increased awareness of the big world combine to drive your toddler to seek novel, independent experiences. When those experiences fail to produce happy outcomes, your toddler may exhibit a tantrum in an attempt to modify the scenario, according to MedlinePlus.gov. Tantrums are a normal part of toddler development, and they usually diminish as parents redirect the behavior.

Change Your Behavior, Change Your Toddler's Behavior

Parents appear shocked to learn that they may be the source of their toddler’s manipulative behavior. A toddler exhibits a keen power of observation related to his interactions with you, and in the process, he learns quickly what works to manipulate you. One successful effort in manipulating you serves as motivation to try again, and a pattern may quickly develop. Consequently, if you want to change your toddler’s manipulative behavior, resolve to change the components of your own behavior that may be problematic.

About the Author

Becky Swain's first publication appeared in the "Journal of Personality Assessment" in 1984. Her articles have also appeared on various websites. She is an adjunct college instructor, licensed school psychologist and educational consultant. She holds a Master of Science in clinical psychology and a Doctor of Philosophy in educational psychology, both from Mississippi State University.

Photo Credits

  • Amos Morgan/Photodisc/Getty Images