He has started to engage in behavior that is clearly manipulative. He'll do things like ask for glasses of water at bed to prolong the bedtime ritual, tell us how much he loves us when he wants something that we're balking at giving him, or point out how he skinned his knee three hours earlier while asking us to give him a treat.

One time he even pretended to cry because I wouldn't interrupt my getting dressed for work to pick him up and carry him around the house. That incident involved him going into his bedroom crying, and closing the door behind him. He then opened the door, checked to make sure that I was looking, pouted, and closed the door again. When I walked away, he followed me out crying. When I asked if he was pretending to cry because he wanted me to pick him up, he admitted that he was, and immediately stopped crying.

He'll go through brief periods where he'll wake up in the middle of the night and cry until we come check on him, and tuck him back in. Then, between 30 and 60 minutes later, he'll do it again. This will happen 3-4 times a night, with explanations ranging from his blanket needing to be fixed, to bad dreams, to "I heard a noise". If I go in and tell him that he needs to stop waking us up, and that he needs to fix his own blankets, etc., he usually does, and the problem stops for a few weeks.

I know that at this age, there's a lot of "pushing of boundaries", to see how much he can get away with, but the deliberate manipulation troubles me.

Is this something I should be concerned with, and take special action to address?

  • Sounds normal, based on my sample of one 2 1/2 year old. May 21, 2014 at 14:39
  • Sounds normal, based on my sample of one 1 3/4 year old. In particular, asking for snacks to prolong bedtime. May 21, 2014 at 14:43
  • Sounds normal for the most part. I'd try to discourage the pretending to cry though (if simply asking/telling him to stop is enough then simply do so) simply because it can lead to issues in public if he thinks it's an acceptable way to get what he wants. Bartering and pointing out things like skinning his knee though? Perfectly normal.
    – Doc
    May 22, 2014 at 19:50
  • He's a toddler. I'd be worried if he wasn't trying to manipulate you :-D May 26, 2014 at 2:16

2 Answers 2


It's absolutely normal, but that doesn't mean it's not correct to push back a bit. The child is making important connections about cause-and-effect and how to communicate. That's great news! They are also exhibiting the very standard child self-centered-ness. It's just beyond their developmental scope to grasp that their immediate needs and comfort are anything but critically important for them and those who love them.

While you won't have a lot of luck at this age convincing them that their needs need to be judged against others' needs, you can have discussions about honesty, and promote your belief in honesty's importance. So when your child faux-cries to get attention and you call him out on it, go the next step and explicitly identify his crying as not true. If an actual lie is told, say why that is bad.

(Children can be and often are very generous & considerate, but not usually in the face of their own perceived needs not being met.)

  • +1 - it's not abnormal but it's always good to stress correct behavior. Also consider where they are learning the behavior from - if you and your spouse do it to them, then you reap what you sow.
    – mxyzplk
    May 27, 2014 at 4:34

I don't think you should be concerned. My 5 year old has continued to hone her manipulation skills, and according to what I'm told, will continue to do so until she moves out.

Put more succinctly, I think it's very normal child development.


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