Is Your Toddler Manipulating You?

Sep 11, 2017

In good Jewish style, let me answer that by asking you this: If your newborn cries because she's hungry, is she manipulating you?

No way, Chaya Shifra! No-brainer, right?

How 'bout a 3 year old who wakes in the middle of the night crying? Manipulating?

Hm. Harder to say, right?

What it all boils down to is one word: needs.

Your newborn up at night? Well, of course, she needs to eat.

5 month old? Needs to eat, too, most likely.


Not just eating

But eating isn't the only need babies and young children have (though it's often the first one caregivers think of.)

Our littles have boatloads of other needs. There are the physical ones that come readily to mind - sleep (of course!), hygeine, comfort, health - and emotional needs as well. Babies and young children need touch, interaction, smiles and attention in order to thrive and do well. 

We all know that, right?

Yet... "Don't spoil her!" "Just ignore him and he'll learn." "I need to make him eat/sleep/like that friend, or else..." "Oh, he's just doing it for attention."

So what actually constitutes "spoiling"? What will he learn when you ignore him? Can you actually make him do it (whatever the “it” might be)? And, yes, your child may be doing it for attention, but if that's the case, then she needs attention, right?

There is no right or wrong answer to the first two questions - it'll depend on the child and the situation. But no, you cannot make your child do anything; and yes, if your child needs attention, then you should definitely be giving him attention!

Because, again, our children have needs. Your toddler needs a healthy level of autonomy (key word here is healthy). Your toddler needs attention and love.

The problem is that when those needs are not filled in regular interactions over the course of the day, they tend to trickle into the more tense times of day, like bedtime and meal time - and that's when they're also more likely to be seen as manipulation.


What to do?

So what do you do with a "manipulative" toddler? Well, the top two resolutions for toddlers that seem to be manipulating are one-on-one time and giving choices.

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