How to Handle Manipulative Toddlers

To quiet down your screaming toddler in the supermarket, you give in to her demands for a balloon and finish your shopping trip with a blissful silence you don’t often hear. Even the people who stop their carts directly in the middle of the aisle so you cannot get around them as they browse the spices don’t bother you with this golden silence. You won this battle. You wish! You lost in every sense of the word. Your crying toddler just manipulated the pants right off of you -- or the balloon in this case. She asked, you said no. She screamed, you gave her the balloon. Toddlers learn quickly how to manipulate you, and every time they get their way you are making both your lives that much more difficult.

Understand Manipulation in Toddlers

Your toddler did not learn to manipulate you in the womb, so where did he learn this behavior? You might want to sit down for this one, Mom. He learned his manipulative behavior from you. That’s not to say you’re practically a cast member on “Gossip Girl,” but you still taught him this behavior. The first time he cried for something and you gave it to him to make him stop, he noticed. Then he did it again, and you gave in again. The more you give in to his demands after he misbehaves, the more he will do it. He’s a toddler now, which means temper tantrums and pouting; when he grows up, his manipulation might become a lot worse.

Recognize Different Types of Manipulation

Manipulation by a toddler doesn't just involve him screaming until you give in and buy the cookie/balloon/toy. A toddler learns many forms of manipulation. If you want to learn to handle this manipulation, you have to recognize all the forms of manipulation your toddler throws at you. Telling you she is sick to get out of cleaning her room or going to daycare, begging for just one more cookie before bed, telling you that you are mean when you say no, asking her dad or grandparents when you say no, promising to do what you ask after she finishes coloring and telling you she didn’t know better are all forms of manipulation she is using to get her way. Remember that your manipulative toddler has only one goal, and that is to get her own way every single time. That should help you recognize her manipulation.

Change Your Reaction to Manipulation

The best way to handle a manipulative toddler is to change your own behavior. This is not going to be easy. In fact, you should get used to reading your grocery list and filling up your cart while your toddler screams his head off in his seat while everyone stares at you. To teach him not to manipulate you, you have to show him his manipulation doesn’t work. Learn to say no. Learn to let go of the sadness you feel when you see his tears or hear him call you a meanie head. The beginning is tough, but once he realizes that his manipulations no longer work, he will stop using this form of behavior.

Let Your Toddler in on Your Knowledge

Once you decide to change your own behavior, it is time to let your toddler know you are onto her little game of manipulation. The minute she starts to manipulate you, sit her down and talk to her. She is a toddler so you need to keep your explanation as simple as possible. For example, say to her, “Sweetheart, mommy noticed that every time your sister wants to watch the movie your grandmother gave to you to share, you can’t find it. Hiding it is not nice and you won’t be allowed to watch it anymore if you don’t share.” Once she knows you’re onto her she will learn she cannot use that form of manipulation anymore.

Create Consequences and Follow Through

Dealing with a manipulative toddler involves enforcing consequences. Explain to your toddler that when he has a fit in the store because you will not buy him a snack or new toy, he will go to time-out or lose his favorite toy for one day. It’s important that you follow through with the consequences if you want your toddler to learn that manipulation does not work.