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.

“I’ve Got No Choice”

Many studies have shown how important it is for low-income mothers to sustain their moral identities as both good mothers and reliable workers during times of little social valuing of mothers’ caring work. Discovering how low-income mothers sustain this duality when caring crises preclude employment requires a mapping of their social worlds as reflected in their moral justifications. We used an institutional ethnographic approach that focused on situations wherein mothers decide to exit the labor market and devote themselves to their children’s caring needs. Interviews with 48 Israeli mothers revealed that they maintain their moral fitness both as good mothers and good citizens by engaging in a specific emotion management: expressing emotional devotion to their paid job, whereas child care is presented as a necessity. We argue that emotion management is particularly revealing of how macro-level institutional practices and discourses come to the fore in individuals’ daily lives.

“I’ve Got No Choice”

The Moral Life of Babies and Some Thoughts on Parenting

Ron Huxley’s Rant: I came across this very comprehensive article on the moral life of babies. I didn’t repost the entire article here because, well, it’s quite long and could get a bit boring. If you like that sort of thing I would encourage you to click the nytimes.com link above. Here’s the basic premise: Babies do come into the world with a bit of a moral compass. It is our job as parents to give it some refinement. This premise moved me to consider how are parenting philosophy and techniques are based on how we think about babies. 

The researchers conducted several experiments demonstrating that children experience empathy and have sense of right and wrong from the earliest moments of their lives. Their solutions to moral problems (how two children will share one toy that both believed they had their eye on first) may be limited due to their cognitive limitations and lack of social guidance but their innate understanding that some injustice has occurred is right on. Astute parents have witnessed their children getting their feelings hurt by the most innocent of situations. I once looked at a baby wrong and she tightened her face up into a silent scream and then exploded into tears. This reaction doesn’t come without some moral frame of reference, however limited.

I am not sure why we like to believe children are “perfect idiots” or full of “blooming, buzzing (moral) confusion” as a couple of leading thinkers in the field have described them. My fear is that when we hold the idea that children are narcissistic sociopaths, we will respond to them in very adverse, punitive ways. I think this has definitely been the case historically. The parenting idea of “spare the rod and spoil the child” has lead too many parents to the point of physical and emotional abuse. In my career many parents that had their children removed really that they were doing the right thing by their child. So much of our beliefs about parenting is governed by social constructs. How would parenting styles differ if we thought of babies as already equipped with a moral center, full of goodness and mercy? I know this sounds a bit preachy, but really, how would we parent differently? Would it change how we prioritize our schedules during the day? Alter educational standards? Give a new approach to discipline?

Let’s have a conversation, with other parents, about how parenting methods might change if our first thought is that babies are smart, nice and loving creatures and not budding sociopaths in need of parental toughness. Share your thoughts here or post on Facebook and Twitter.