Signs of Manipulative Behavior in Children

When children manipulate others with the purpose of serving themselves or getting their way, the action can create a negative environment in the home. A close relationship with your child can make it difficult to detect manipulation -- even when your child turns his manipulation tactics on you. With knowledge of the signs of manipulative behavior, you can be ready to combat it 1.


In the pursuit of serving or protecting the self, dishonesty often plays a starring role in manipulation tactics, states the Turning D Ranch Center for Troubled Youth website. Lies can confound and confuse issues and make it difficult to determine the real situation. Lies can cover up behaviors and activities that children don’t want you to know about. The dishonesty can even cause you to wonder whether you’re just over-reacting to an innocent situation. If your parenting instinct tells you that something sounds wrong, delve deeper to see what might be happening.

Victim Mentality

Portraying herself as a victim, your child may succeed in getting sympathy or attention to achieve her goals, advises the Turning D Ranch website. The common goal of a manipulative kid is to hoodwink people into doing something or giving something that serves her purpose. An added feature of the victim mentality is that the manipulator never needs to accept responsibility for anything that happens. This responsibility always falls somewhere else, far away from where it really belongs. Defuse this manipulation tactic by telling your child that you know she can resolve her problem without you, and then don’t get involved.


If a situation isn’t going just right, a manipulative child may resort to threats to turn the situation around. James Lehman, with the Empowering Parents website, likens a verbal threat as a thrust of power -- an attempt to wrench the power away from you so the child can have what he wants. A manipulative child may become antagonistic, yelling and threatening disobedience if the parent does not give in to the child. Lehman recommends that parents must keep cool in this situation and resist the urge to match the child’s antagonistic threat. Instead, end the discussion until the child calms down and speaks respectfully and rationally.

Playing Others

Children who manipulate are often masters of observation, states Lehman. By watching parents and other people, children learn who gives in easily, who remains stronger and the individual weak spots of specific people. Children may manipulate one parent with charm in an attempt to divide parents and cause discord. Maintain a strong and unified front with your spouse to eliminate manipulative behavior from affecting your marriage and parenting.