Signs of Manipulative Behavior in Children

Wouldn't it be nice if our children behaved just the way we wanted them to: polite, respectful, full of love and generosity? It's the fairytale image of having a family but the unfortunate truth is, life doesn't always work that way. Children have their own emotions and insecurities to bring to the table, and sometimes these manifest in manipulative behavior. It's important to recognize the difference between true emotions and manipulation in your child so you can nurture the one and correct the other.

Deliberately Ignoring Authority

Let's say you just asked your son to clean his room for the third time and his response is to continue lounging on his bed reading his comics. Ignoring your authority is the same as taking that authority away from you, says licensed counselor Laura Kuehn. By not doing what you ask, he's attempting to take control of the situation. A variation of this behavior is doing the task you've asked him to take care of but deliberately doing it half-way.

Testing You

Most children are going to see if those boundaries you keep talking about are really there, but a manipulative child isn't acting out of an instinctive search for security. She's trying to prove you have no control over her. For instance, when you tell her not to yell in the house again, she's going to yell at least once more just to make you aware she can do what she wants because she creates the rules, not you.

Getting Angry with Discipline

When your child lashes out at discipline by getting furious and fighting with you, he's trying to challenge the validity of your reasoning. In effect he's saying, "What right do you think you have to punish me? I think I was right and that's all that matters."


You politely ask your daughter to do her homework. Her response is "no." You ask her to apologize for something she did wrong. She says "no." You ask her to get in bed at bedtime and she guessed it..."no." Again, any child will test those boundaries, but a manipulative child will do her best to follow through with her refusals until she wears you out or provokes a reaction.

Pushing Your Buttons

Your children know you intimately. They're aware of what hurts you, what angers you and what it takes to make you feel irate and helpless. A sign of a manipulative child is his constant quest to push your buttons to get your reactions, says Kuehn. Having power over how you feel is the ultimate in control.