My baby just turned 6 months old. I have seen some babies start to manipulate their parents around 8-9 months old (or around 1 year) to get the things they want (either by hurting them selves or acting it out). What can I do so that she doesn't learn such behavior? I am a working mom - not home for at least (8-9 hours in a day). She is with my in-laws for now and will be either at daycare or with nanny when she turns 1. Thank you in advance.


Babies aren't trying to manipulate at these ages. It takes skill to manipulate. They are trying to elicit response/reaction, which is actually developmentally appropriate and important on brain development. Babies are learning "what happens when I..." and then they do it. When the response becomes predictable they are learning communication. They don't have words, so how else would they ever sort out how to make anything happen other than behaviors?

If you think of what your baby does to create a certain response out of you as an attempt to manipulate, you are creating a set up in your mind that puts your relationship to your child as adversarial and a power struggle. It need not be thought of that way at all.

Here is a perfect example. When your child is unhappy, what are you supposing you think is an appropriate way for a baby to show you? They show you through crying, sometimes back arching, whining, whimpering, screaming if it's bad enough or if they are of a firey temperament. Now they communicate to you that they are unhappy. How you respond will likely communicate only one of two things, either that you care they are unhappy, and will try to help them (since they are in effect, generally rather helpless to improve their own situation at this age) or you can teach them that their feelings are not important to you and you prefer they do not try to convey feelings to you unless they are pleasant ones. This is the EARLY stages of your bonding and trust for a whole lifetime. It is important to recognize where they are cognitively. They are learning if the world is a safe place where people care about me and my needs will be met, or if the world is a cold place, where I will be attended to randomly as someone wants to do it. I know it sounds drastic perhaps, but not if you understand how early connections are being made in the brain and remember that right now this brain is actually being wired. It has no preconceived ideas, it's learning how things work.

The reason I would encourage any parent to interact when a child is upset is simply this, they will not always be infants. If you want your child to trust you later with important things they should come to you with, you can't shut them out when what they need while small feels small to you. When my 18 month old would fall apart because we had to leave a place, that didn't feel small to her. To her that was huge. The fact that I know it's not a big deal has nothing to do with how she is experiencing it. If I condescend and act like she is "making a big deal over nothing", she will interpret that as I don't care how she feels. Instead I can empathize. I can say, "I know it's hard. I don't like leaving when I am having fun either. I am sorry you are so sad". You are still leaving, she may still cry, but with this approach she get validation that her feelings matter even when it's not going to change outcome.

I am not sure about hurting themselves. I haven't seen much of that in my own kids or kids I watch. I see minor things where they pretend to be hurt and want to be loved up, but to actually hurt themselves isn't something you should anticipate a child will do. They might. I have known of kids that have, but most won't. If a child is getting enough attention, it would go against the very nature of being human to inflict pain as a way to get attention. What reason would there be to even do it? As far as acting out, I always rephrase that in my head to acting it out. They are generally demonstrating feelings. If you can sort out what they are feeling, and why, and then use your superior verbal skills to acknowledge (I know you want to touch that. It's hard when we can't touch. Would you like to touch this?) often they just stop. If you don't have much vocabulary, but you have ALL the same emotions as adults and you have no capacity to actually use reasoning skills, and not much time to have developed virtues like patience and such, well, it means you are left with a small skill set to demonstrate your bad feelings, so it tends to look like what most will call tantrum like behaviors. I imagine life at that age is pretty frustrating. You are in control of nothing, you never seem to know what is coming next, you can't do anything for yourself that is meaningful, you are at the mercy of the patience and kindness (or lack of) of whomever is currently caring for you, etc, etc, etc.

Being responsive and kind to your children is not going to lead to you being manipulated. It won't. I have been sweet to all of mine any time I can and as they got older and were better able to navigate things on their own, they naturally did, and they are good kids. I never left them to cry, ignored their upsets, etc. You don't need to in order to have sweet kids. What I did was model the sorts of behaviors I wanted to instill in them. When I am upset I don't want my husband to ignore me, even if I am irrational and out of line. I also don't really want him to yell back. Usually what I actually want, is to feel heard and maybe for him to walk up to me and say "I can see your day has been AWFUL...why don't you go take a long shower". In parenting we would call that rewarding bad behavior. In partnering we call that seeing through to the real me, the hurting me, the part of me that needs love more than to be "set straight". I also find this same tactic adjusted to suit the child and age works just as well when I am mothering as it does when my husband calms my soul with loving me the sweetest at the moment I seem to least deserve it.

  • Beautifully explained. Thanks! +1. Sep 29 '17 at 13:51
  • SE is broken. It won't let me upvote more than once. Need to fix. This answer deserves it. ;)
    – Becuzz
    Sep 29 '17 at 16:26

My biggest 'trick' is to pay attention when they are playing quietly. Often acting out is just a way to get attention. So join them in their play at times that suit you (even if they are playing well on their own) rather than just the moments toys are flying a cross they room

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