In a world where it is common place to try and use emotional manipulation to achieve our goals, it can be so hard not to use that same language with our children. The word “emotional manipulation” sounds like a Dateline special but it is actually something we all do frequently so please stop beating yourself up for slipping up with this. I know I do, I think most of us do. It takes practice to change a narrative so deeply ingrained in our society.

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“We’re all running late now because you didn’t get ready quickly.”

“We had a hard time at the grocery store because you weren’t listening to me.”

“If you don’t go to sleep, you’ll be cranky tomorrow.”

“Candy makes you so silly. I don’t want you to have any.”

What I find is often emotional manipulation is not intentional. It is a reaction to being hurt. I know usually when I react with emotional manipulation it is in an attempt to have the other person realize how they have hurt me. It’s not really an attempt to manipulate them with guilt and shame but that is how it is often perceived.

I think many of us who are practicing responsive parenting get confused about this, especially in the heat of the moment. We are trying to use communication, empathy, love and understanding to work through a challenge with our child. It can be hard to be honest about your feelings, while not making your child feel guilty or shamed for how their emotions and behaviour have impacted you. I think there is a way to do this but it can be challenging and takes practice. Here’s a couple phrases that can give you some ideas for what to say instead.

“I’m feeling really overwhelmed right now. I sometimes feel this way when there is a lot going on and we are running late.”

“Sometimes when I see you sad, I then also feel sad because you are my child and our hearts are connected. But I am always a safe place for your big feelings.”

“I am feeling unheard right now and it is making me frustrated.”

“Sometimes things happen that remind us of other times in our lives that made us sad. I’m just feeling some of those emotions right now. I’m just going to sit down and take a deep breath.”

Try these three questions before you respond next time:

1. What am I feeling right now?

2. Why am I feeling that way?

3. How can I say that without accusing my child of anything?

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