Here’s a sample of the rich content you will find in this new book “The Manipulator at Home”:
The manipulator parent goes through the day offering rewards and threatening punishment, believing that this motivates children. You can have your box of animal crackers if you get out of the bathtub right now. Or, If you are not home by eleven, you’re grounded. The manipulator dangles star charts and stickers, money and computer games. He also promises negative consequences with time-outs and grounding and withdraws privileges, such as bedtime stories and telephone time. Sometimes, he offers vague consequences for undesirable behavior. If you can’t play nicely, you can’t have friends over. Or, If you can’t turn off that TV, we’re just going to have to unplug it.
Danny’s father was proud that he had provided a monetary incentive for his eight-year-old son to make the bed each morning. Within a couple of weeks, Danny was making not only his own bed but also his brother’s and his parents’. When his father commented on Danny’s apparent diligence, Danny replied, “I want more allowance.”
Before long the manipulator exhausts all reasonable rewards and punishments. He grasps at whatever he thinks might work for the moment, without considering his own willingness to follow through. “If you don’t sit still in the grocery cart, I’m going to take you home.” Or, “If you don’t bring the car back on time, you can’t have it for six months.” The child recognizes the empty threat, realizes that nothing will happen, and continues to misbehave.
Sarilyn e-mailed in desperation, asking for a way to make her six-year-old son behave. “He doesn’t really have any more privileges that I can take away other than dessert and an hour of TV. So now when he misbehaves I send him to his room immediately. I start to count to ten. The understanding is that if I make it to ten and he is not in his room, he gets
a spanking. He hasn’t called my bluff, but the time will come.”
When a parent models manipulation, he teaches the child how to manipulate. For example, instead of discussing how peas help you grow, he negotiates the number of peas the child must eat before she earns a bowl of ice cream. Soon, the child learns to play the game. If I eat my peas, do I get ice cream? Ultimately, she discovers the existence of an acceptable minimum. How many peas do I have to eat to get ice cream?
Preoccupied with rewards and punishments, the manipulator fails to explain the value of the behavior he seeks. Mistakenly, he believes that his motivators will create a desire within the child to repeat appropriate behavior, but the child behaves simply to get rewards or avoid punishment. The child evaluates each request in terms of its impact on her. Do I want a smiley face sticker enough to be nice to my brother? Or, Do I want to stay out late tonight badly enough to risk being grounded? When rewards and punishments lose their effect, the child has no reason to behave appropriately. The parent worries, I just can’t motivate her.
One Sunday at church, seven-year-old Spencer seemed particularly interested in the children who wore white robes and participated in the communion service. After church his mother, Darcy, asked Spencer if he would like to become an altar server. Spencer replied, “Do I get paid for it?
Linda Culp Dowling and
Cecile Culp Mielenz, Ph.D.
– Linda Dowling and Cecil Mielenz