Foiling a Manipulation Tactic
Kids develop a finely tuned awareness of which parent to go to in specific circumstances. Whether they’re looking for money, a ride to the mall, or permission to sleep over at a friend’s, if one parent is more likely to say yes than the other, the children will know exactly who that is. But that can turn into a big problem when kids use this knowledge to their advantage and begin playing one parent against the other. Here are some suggestions for avoiding these sneak attacks.
When parents create rules, it’s not uncommon for one parent to struggle more than the other to enforce them. The thought of a temper tantrum is enough to send parents rushing to the cookie jar to hand one over. Even though it can be tough to hold your ground when you know that what’s on the other side of the “no” is particularly unpleasant behaviour from your children, it’s important to stay the course. Otherwise, this type of behaviour is reinforced, and becomes a go-to behaviour whenever they’re looking for something they’re not getting. And if you have one parent who consistently gives in, even on rules that have been agreed upon by both parents, it seriously undermines the authority and respect toward the other parent. Ideally, there shouldn’t be a “good cop, bad cop” situation in the house — aim for a consistent reinforcement of rules by both parents.
Another problem is when a child asks one parent for something, gets turned down, then promptly goes to ask the other parent the exact same request. Asking a straight, “Have you talked to your mother/father about this already?” heads this problem off at the pass. Because it gets tedious to check in this way every time your little darling comes to you with a question, you may decide to go this route only if the dual questioning of both parents is beginning to get out of hand, if it’s something that has been discussed before and keeps popping up as a problem, or if the question is a biggie that you want to make sure you know where your partner stands. If it comes to your attention after the fact that your partner gave a contradictory answer before you were ever asked the question, it’s important to not let that behaviour slide. Approach your child, preferably together, and let him or her know that this kind of behaviour is unacceptable, and that the original answer is the one that stands. Even if you don’t agree with what your partner said, it’s important to demonstrate a united front. Have your discussions behind the scenes, and make sure that you support each other publicly in these situations.