I’ve been thinking a lot about the way children from a very young age are able to manipulate the people around them. It can be as subtle or as blatant as they desire. One could argue that this is an art form, learned and perfected as a means of protection/survival. One could argue it is just born within us. Still, it is ever-present and just feels wrong.
As I picked my younger son from school yesterday, I told him that we did not have to pick up his brother until later in the afternoon due to volleyball practice. My youngest then said to me in the sweetest voice he could muster: ‘You know Mom we can go to Starbucks right now, just you and me… together. We can get some cocoa and hang out. You could even have coffee, and I know you love coffee… but not as much as you love me.’ I glanced up in the rear view mirror… I saw his sandy blonde hair all tussled about from playing outside, green smudges of ink on the side of his face from a marker stain on his fingers, a big toothy grin and big bright blue eyes alight with the very real possibility of getting his way. I wanted to go to Starbucks. I wanted at that very moment to give this beautiful child (with whom God has entrusted to me) everything that his heart desires. It was at that very moment that I realized I was being played. This kid has my number and he knows how to use it!
Like every mother, I enjoy the adoration of my children. I take opportunities to shower them with gifts of love, attention, and sometimes even Starbucks. What can I say it’s the only coffee chain in the small town where I live. Okay so long story short I told my little blonde haired, blue eyed angel that I had coffee and cocoa at home and unless he was buyin’ we would have some there. He didn’t balk, or try again, he simply smiled knowing he was defeated. It then occurred to me how close he was to getting his way. I honestly wanted to turn my vehicle around and head to Starbucks to get him some cocoa. I wanted to just hang out with him and chat about his day. I do crave that one on one attention with each of my children, and they both know it. Then I started to ponder…How many times has this gorgeous child gotten me to do as he pleases? How many times has he gotten other people to do things he wants, all with the art of manipulation.
Was my child born with the ability to manipulate? Is it an action that is taught by a modeled behavior? It is hard to for me to say and it is likely that everyone has their own opinion. Through all of this one thing remains apparent; we all have the inherent ability to manipulate. Even in biblical times manipulation was a real and present issue. It was after all Jacob who stole his brother Esau’s birth right. How you may ask… by manipulation/deception/coercion. Genesis 27:1-40. Rebekah saw that Isaac was going to bless Esau and helped devise a plan to manipulate Isaac into blessing Jacob instead. So you see this is nothing new. So why then does it bother me?
When I look into my life I see that it is riddled with manipulation. I myself having been manipulated and also manipulating others to get what I want. Then it hits me like a ton of bricks. I know why this bothers me so much, why it just feels so wrong. Manipulation is a form selfishness. It is the desire to have one’s way no matter the cost. So, how do you stop a snowball that is rolling downhill and gaining speed? By building an embankment, duh!
When you have a child that is selfish and self indulgent it can at times seem like they are out of control. Much like the snowball, they can resemble a force of nature. Manipulation being part of this self-centered behavior, when fed into tends to grow. When your child uses your wants and desires as a way to get what they want (whether it is just a warm cuppa or some much craved affection) they are in every sense of the word manipulating you. If you as a parent overlook this manipulation for whatever reason, you are reinforcing the fact this behavior is acceptable. This is not meant to be an accusation or to point fingers, I myself am guilty of indulging this behavior from time to time.
So now that I have pointed out the issue, what can we as parents do about this. Part of raising a child to be outwardly focused rather than self centered and manipulative requires us as parents to look inward. A little self reflection never hurt anyone… right? Its time to ask ourselves if we have selfish tendencies. Are we always looking for a way to have our own needs, wants, and desires met? How do we handle situations in which we may not get what we want? How do we treat those around us… or those in need? Whoa, things just got real.
Before you can build that embankment to help stop the out of control snowball you first have to consider where it all started. In other words; to help our children change, we as parents have to learn to help ourselves reverse this process. What process am I talking about you may ask? It is the thought process in which everything revolves around you. Your needs, your wants, your desires. This is the substructure of selfishness. We live in a society and culture that promotes the entitlement mentality. A society that’s built upon the concept of you want it, you should have it. If we can find a way as adults to curb the impulse to serve only ourselves then it is possible to teach the same concept to our children.
This would mean saying “NO”. As a parent I know how difficult it can be to just say “NO” to our children in regards to their wants. After all, we want them to have what we did not… or more than we were blessed with. Saying NO requires us to say that these things are not really necessary. This means not getting the latest iGadget or gaming console just because it’s new just because Bobby or Suzie got it. Especially if you already have one that works! It means denying not just yourself but your children material possessions even when marketing companies are shoving their product down your throat! It means, looking for ways to make a difference in your community, and the world. Instead of feeding corporate greed, feed the homeless. There are many ways to go about doing this and one thing is certain, when you give more of your time, resources, and self to others in need you will have less material desires. It is a step in the right direction.
We as parents can make a difference in the lives of our children, our community, and our world. We can stop the cycle of selfishness and manipulation, and create a new generation of people who are caring and compassionate. I read a quote the other day on Facebook that really struck a chord with me. “It’s not our job to toughen our children up to face a cruel and heartless world. It’s our job to raise children who will make the world a little less cruel and heartless. “- K.R. Knost. We can do this by helping our children to not focus solely on themselves.
If you would like a resource to check out local charities and make sure they are legit please check out: Charity Navigator. This organization will break everything down for you and let you know if the charity you and/or your family would like to financially support is worthy of the money you donate. It gives you a breakdown of their funds and how their money is spent. It is truly amazing. To get involved at a community level you can look up your local food banks, homeless shelters, women’s shelters, and the like. Let’s be a generation of doers, changing not only ourselves, but our children and our future.