Who controls the house

She picked up a copy of the prayer book. She flipped through till she got to the portion of the morning devotions. I quickly recognized the act. It’s a kind of manipulation.

One of the unfortunate parts of parenting is that we cannot give our children everything they want. For instance, it’s part of the parcel to regularly ask kids to start doing things they do not want to do- like observing bedtime limits, chores and homework, eating a healthy meal, facing the consequence when they default on our directives, etc.

We must also get them to stop doing some things that they do want to do- like taking what isn’t theirs without permission, aggressive behaviour towards siblings or others etc.

So If we are really doing our parenting job, in addition to being warm, caring, supportive and all, we must also frustrate our kids on a regular basis. When we do this, some children may choose the testing and manipulating route to find an escape. These are efforts of a frustrated child to get what he wants or avoid discipline by getting his parent emotionally confused and consequently, sidetracked. 

My rule was simple: each time you put your pantyhose in the laundry, be sure it’s fully turned the right way out. Any pantyhose that’s half way turned out will not be stretched out by me neither would it make it to the washing machine. Result? It would be hand washed by the wearer.

So early Wednesday morning, as I set to load the washer, I came across two pantyhose (obviously from Monday and Tuesday) which failed my criteria. I was happy to set them aside. As Arike prepared for school, I called her attention to it. Since the rule was already established, there was no need for “plenty lecture.”

I simply directed her to go wash the pantyhose before setting out for school (I figured she may be too tired in the evening and with the half-term assessment and revision to take place in the evening, the washing may take a back seat).

On a good day, it’s a struggle to get Arike to do her morning devotion after prayers. Today, however, she chose to.

I quickly caught it as a strategy to get what she wanted- to not wash the pantyhose. So she tuned to emotional manipulation- do something I’ll obviously feel good and be happy about. She was putting out a message- you’ll feel really bad if you mistreat or discipline or deny me after how nice, good and complying a child I have been. I recognized her attempt to do her morning devotion without being prompted as an attempt to set me up for parental guilt. I was meant to feel so positively towards her that I won’t have the heart to make her feel bad (by making her hand wash her pantyhose).

Are you familiar with this kind of manipulation from your child? For some children, it may be the frequent plea of I’m sorry when they over step their boundaries so that they can escape your consequence. They will bombard you with so many I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry that you would think you have no choice but to give in (and voila, they escape discipline). Could that be hard to distinguish from genuine apology? No. Consider If a child says; I love you- and proceeds not to ask for anything- that’s probably genuine affection. A child who asks if he can go and ride his bicycle when he is done doing his homework or chores may be proposing a straightforward and legitimate deal but, if you ever feel- the only time your child is so nice or obedient is when he wants something, or when he wants you to do something or when he wants to avoid doing something- then that child is running the shots and manipulating you. If care is not taken, he runs your home.

The use of testing and manipulation does not mean that a child is sick, emotionally troubled or in need of psychological care. Attempts to get our way are perfectly normal to every human specie. Manipulating tools come naturally to the child. You just have to be a more discerning parent to counteract the testing and manipulations.

By the way, let me share with you how it ended.  I ended up a happy camper. I acknowledged Arike’s sense of responsibility and commitment to her spirituality. I followed it up with a timeline- You have 12mins for your devotion and then you need to go do your laundry in the next 7mins so you are done in time to catch the school shuttle. Honestly, I expected a bad job. I thought she would be too upset to do a thorough job and I wasn’t going to put my eye- there were other important things on the table needing my attention. Guess what? Unsupervised, she did an excellent washing job, put the pantyhose on the drier and yes, she made the shuttle!

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