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Words From Our Rabbeim

Playing Your Music

ByRabbi Moshe Don Kestenbaum


So many times, parents have told me in one form or another that their child is being manipulative. For example, “My son complains about school because he is lazy and doesn’t want to do his work. Or he complains that we blame him for everything and favor the other children in order to try to get out of doing his share of the work in the house.”

While there are certainly times when this is the case, I will say that this is not my experience when working with children. When I have sat down with children, it becomes clear that the children sincerely believe in what they are saying. While they may be mistaken in their perception, they are not simply trying to manipulate.

When we assume manipulation, we tend to dismiss whatever the child is saying, which can be such a costly mistake. Children need to know that when they communicate their feelings, they will be taken seriously. Otherwise, children will feel rejected and eventually stop communicating. Truth be told, even if a child is being manipulative, in all likelihood it is not intentional and the child believes what he is saying.

Even if our child is being manipulative, you’ll see only good results from paying respect to his words. Parents can refuse to give into his demands or excuses while still listening attentively to what he is saying and hearing him out.

Take the example of a child complaining that his parents are picking on him. The parents should sit down with him and ask him to explain why he feels that way. The parents may learn that the child actually harbors things that need to be addressed, regardless of the actual reality. Or, if the child is indeed being manipulative, the parents can talk with him until he reveals the fact that he does not mean what he is saying.

Many so-called manipulative children are hyper-sensitive and truly believe that they have been mistreated. They carry deep-seated resentment toward their parents or others, and downplaying their feelings hurts them further. We need to validate their feelings and only afterwards try to show them where they may be misunderstanding. Simply accusing our child of lying undermines our relationship with him. We are telling him that we don’t trust him, which is the basis of any relationship. If we don’t trust him, he will not trust us and the relationship is over. Even in specific black-and-white situations, where we suspect our child of lying, we should be very careful before accusing him of that. Ironically, even if we are right, he will be upset that we don’t believe him. More often than not, we are actually better off not catching him or calling him out on a lie. It allows us to keep the relationship going until we can build it to the point where he will stop lying to us. Once we catch him and call him out on it, he may feel that we will never trust him again. Certainly, parents should take care to avoid saying or implying, “I can never trust you again.” One lie, usually for self-preservation, does not mean and should not mean that he can never be trusted again

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