Is Your Child a Manipulator or Influencer? 

By Ron Huxley, LMFT

Children want feel significant and can be natural leaders when parents can direct this desire in a healthy manner. Unfortunately, many children turn into manipulators or bullies, trying to control everything and everyone in their path. This has a lot to do with developmental drives. A child is untrained force of emotional energy. They cry, scream, tantrum and hit at the slightest provocation. This is because their brain and nervous system are ruled by their emotions over their thoughts and it takes time and practice for them to learn how to manage themselves. Truthfully, many adults are still trying to learn this skill!

When your child is acting bossy, try to imagine how you can redirect this emotional energy into concrete, positive influence. How can you model natural leadership and guide them to be significant without the abuse? 

Reinforce areas of their character that demonstrate their capacity for patience, kindness, respect, love, generosity, and compassion for others. Empathy that is experienced and offered toward others is still the key builders of morality and good judgements in our brain development. Use it without restraint toward your children. 

Look for examples, in media and the world around us, where positive influence and helping others is happening. Discuss the costs for this and why others would lay down their time and energy for someone else. Ask your child how they have done this and who they could pick to be helpful to…Shift their attentional focus from finding significance in manipulation to finding identity in influencing others.

Bossy Children

by Ron Huxley, LMFT

Are you tired of power struggling with your children? Do they believe they are the parent and boss their siblings around (and maybe you too)? Many children have a natural leadership tendency that need parents to direct in a healthy, non-annoying direction. 

Try playing a game I call “Follow the Leader” to create more democratic relationships. Invite children to take turns leading the way or overseeing an activity to give them more focused leadership skills and then allowing the natural, low energy followers a chance to be in charge. If you are taking a walk around the block or going into the store, have one child direct the rest of the group or spice it up and have them walk in a “funny way” that everyone has to emulate. It’s goofy but it will reign in those high energy children by making a daily challenge fun. Perhaps the leader can choose a song to sing in the car on the way to school or pick the board game for the night. Choose a day of the week that each child gets to pick out the book for bed time or the desert after dinner. After a while each child will know what day is there day and the group will manage itself (instead of mom or dad playing mediator). Even the quiet ones will assert: “This is my day to pick, not yours.” As the parent, you can also state: “This is your sisters day to pick the desert. Your day is tomorrow.” This will provide more parenting power. The game/rule/day will be the bad guy, not you. It is easy to argue with you and hard to argue with the “rule.” It also eliminates the dreaded “because I said so” statements. No one wins with that statement!

Strong willed children will still want to dominate but you have to set a new, fairer precedent that allows everyone a chance to pick, talk, control. As the parent, you guide your children with this game/parenting style and step out of the emotional tug-o-war. Use this tactic whenever the bossy child starts to become the dictator. Be creative with the game. Short cycles taking turns might be necessary to prevent meltdowns and don’t let those low energy children give up their turn to the more dominant ones. It is easy for natural followers to let others take charge but they need to be empowered too!