Award-winning author, L.R.Knost

Babies Do Not Manipulate-They Communicate

[Portions reprinted from Whispers Through Time: Communication Through the Ages and Stages of Childhood by L.R.Knost. Two Thousand Kisses a Day: Gentle Parenting Through the Ages and Stages  and The Gentle Parent: Positive, Practical, Effective Discipline also available on Amazon and through other major retailers.]


black baby cryingOn a recent trip to the park, I overheard a parent ranting and raving about a little one “being a brat and always pitching fits.” It took me less than two seconds of looking at the child to realize his mother had put him down on hot asphalt without shoes on, and his ‘fit’ was actually cries of pain as he danced around trying to keep his poor little feet off the asphalt while trying to push past his mommy to get back into the car. In a few years this mother will wonder why her ten-year-old is always so sullen and silent.

Later the same day in Wal-mart, a three-year-old asked her mommy what plastic wrap was for. The mother rolled her eyes and snapped, “For wrapping food in plastic, duh.” A few years from now, this mother will confess to a friend that she has no idea why her nine-year-old is so mouthy and rude.

Minutes later, a two-year-old riding past me in a shopping cart pointed at a toy and babbled in her cute baby language, looking at her daddy with a delighted smile. Her father ignored her first few attempts to get his attention, then finally barked, “Shut up!” without ever looking at her. In a few years this father will complain to his co-workers that his teenaged daughter never talks to him.

Communication in my son’s Tae Kwon Do classes is called, “The link between the world and me.” In the parent/child relationship, communication is entirely…hear this…entirely the responsibility of the parent. From the moment a child enters the world, they are trying to communicate. Crying, grunting, making eye contact, mirroring expressions, all of these things are the instinctive tools built into infants to reach out into a brand new world and make contact. They can do no more. It is entirely up to the parent to make the connection, to respond, to build those all-important ‘lines of communication’ that will be so vitally important to parents in later childhood. Communication is not something that just happens. It is not something that begins when a child becomes verbal, and it’s not a product of a child’s advancing maturity. Communication is a process, a relational building block, a result of intentional and responsive parenting.

quote babies cannot manipulate 2Crying is often mischaracterized as manipulation, and adults are certainly capable of using it that way. But to project such motivations on a baby is to grant them a level of skill and control far, far beyond their capabilities, and that is a potentially disastrous mistake. A parent’s perception of the motivation behind their child’s behavior is often the single most powerful determinant of the parent’s response. And the parental response or lack of response to a nonverbal child’s cries either builds or damages their communication and connection. There is no in between, no neutral.

Babies cannot and do not manipulate. They communicate. Listen. Respond. You aren’t being manipulated. You are being a parent.

And hear this well, parents, your relationship with your teenager is being established now, while your child is still a toddler. Your discipline issues with your nine-year-old are being minimized or intensified right now, while he is reaching out to you in infancy. Preschooler’s tantrums are being moderated or exacerbated at this moment by your response or lack of response to your baby’s cries.

And the responsibility for building communication and connection with your child doesn’t end when your child becomes verbal. There is a reason children aren’t classified as adults until they are, in fact, adults. They simply do not have the judgment, experience, or maturity of an adult. Parents, you are the center of your child’s world for many years, and they will model themselves after the example you set.

If you listen to them, they will learn to listen. If you are rude to them, they will learn to be rude. If you treat them with respect, they will learn to be respectful. If you are angry, demanding, and harsh with them, they will learn to be angry, demanding, and harsh.

You decide every day by your parenting choices what kind of an adult you are going to raise. So live out how you want your children to turn out. That is the heart and soul of gentle, effective parenting.









Related posts:

12 Steps to Gentle Parenting

The Taming of the Tantrum: A Toddler’s Perspective

When Children Act Out ~ Reflecting Our Emotions

Backtalk is Communication…LISTEN

Testing the Boundaries~What’s a Parent to Do?

Award-winnning author, L.R.Knost, is the founder and director of the children's rights advocacy and family consulting group, Little Hearts/Gentle Parenting Resources, and Editor-in-Chief of Holistic Parenting Magazine. Books by L.R.Knost include Whispers Through Time: Communication Through the Ages and Stages of Childhood ; Two Thousand Kisses a Day: Gentle Parenting Through the Ages and Stages ; The Gentle Parent: Positive, Practical, Effective Discipline ; and Jesus, the Gentle Parent: Gentle Christian Parenting the first four books in the Little Hearts Handbook gentle parenting series, and children’s picture books Petey’s Listening Ears and the soon-to-be-released Grumpykins series.

63 Responses

  1. Awesome post. You made me go back and think of the times I could have been like this toward my little one and I have been guilty.
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    September 26, 2011 at 6:48 pm

  2. It is so hard sometimes to see scenarios like this. We were at a waterpark and a young mother could not console her baby’s crying and was spanking the child instead and made it worse. I offered to hold her baby for her and she declined my offering. But as a mother it hurts so bad in my heart when I see things like that. All I can do is pray for them.

    September 27, 2011 at 3:59 pm

    • So heartbreaking 🙁 I don’t know a single adult who, if they are crying, would accept their spouse hitting them to get them to stop. Praying is my response when I see things like that, as well!

      September 27, 2011 at 4:07 pm

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  4. Beautiful post. We teach our children with everything we do (and everything we omit). It’s so sad to see scenarios like those you mention play out. The parent never seems to realize that everyone loses…the child, for being taught that s/he is ineffective at communicating, and the parent for not hearing the magic – the true person that is their child – that comes from the mouth of their own babe. Sad cycle starts here…Couldn’t agree more that your relationship with your child starts now. Be the person you want your child to be. Thank you for posting…will be sharing this.

    November 29, 2011 at 2:37 pm

    • L.R. Knost

      “Be the person you want your child to be.” That is my mantra! Thanks for sharing 🙂

      November 29, 2011 at 3:01 pm

  5. Brilliantly written. I see these same scenarios. I now stop, open my heart to the parent and child and silently wish them well. It helps me.
    Thanks for posting!

    December 16, 2011 at 1:07 pm

    • L.R. Knost

      Thank you! I stop and chat with the parent and little ones, trying to diffuse situations when I can. And I always pray for the family, often with my children, when we are back in the van or at home. My own little ones learn a lot about living what you believe, compassion, and forgiveness through these experiences.

      December 16, 2011 at 2:44 pm

  6. The hot asphalt thing annoys me to no end. One thing I have to say for my mom, despite her belief in corporal punishment for everything and in “Children should be seen and not heard,” she has always been very conscious of those little things that babies can’t communicate, like a hair in the mouth, a pinching shoe, zippers poking the chin, etc. I hate seeing parents pretending their kids are immune to pain.

    December 16, 2011 at 4:13 pm

    • L.R. Knost

      Agreed! I was on my way over to nicely point out the poor little one’s burning feet, but he managed to push past her into their car before I could get to them. I always wonder when I see a parent/child struggle going on if better communication and/or more compassion might have prevented the issue in the first place 🙁

      December 16, 2011 at 4:35 pm

  7. Such a good post!

    December 16, 2011 at 5:29 pm

    • L.R. Knost

      Thank you 🙂

      December 16, 2011 at 5:54 pm

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  9. allisonpro

    This rings true for me on every level! And since we all fall short of our ideals of positive, intentional, gentle parenting at times–even with the best of intentions and most sincere prayers–I really believe that apologizing to our children and asking for their forgiveness is key. I apologize to my children for something almost every day–not being patient in a particular instance, speaking unkindly, rushing them… They’ve heard “Will you forgive me?” since before they could remember. I guess it’s not so much bragging that I’m good at apologizing as it is outing myself about how many mistakes I make. 🙂 Thanks a million for this post!

    December 17, 2011 at 7:52 pm

    • L.R. Knost

      You’re welcome! And thanks for ‘outing’ yourself on your mistakes, lol. Other parents need to know they aren’t alone in being human!

      December 17, 2011 at 9:57 pm

      • tabby

        i loved this and am planning on sharing it with my husband. he often says that my 3 yr old and 9 month old are manipulating. it’s frustrating because i try telling him that we just need to figure out what’s wrong. they’re just babies, why would they be manipulative. there’s no need. i am hoping he can read this and see what i’ve been trying to say. i am positive he will be open to change. thanks again!

        July 11, 2013 at 12:20 am

  10. How often unintentionally unfair can adults be towards children! Children strapped in pushchairs wearing thick winter coats in a shopping mall, red faced and crying – adults with a t-shirt irritable that taking children shopping is such hard work! We need to stop and put ourselves in the child’s positions …. how would we feel. Thank you for a great post – not just for parents but anybody working with children.

    December 20, 2011 at 5:35 am

    • L.R. Knost

      Agreed. So much hurt and resulting anger and acting out could be avoided with just a bit more focused attention and kindness!

      December 20, 2011 at 2:02 pm

  11. This is a wonderful, wonderful post full of perfect reminders for those of us engaged in the long process of re-parenting ourselves in the wake of childhoods spent with parents who did not know, or could not comprehend, what you’ve written. Thank you.

    January 2, 2012 at 11:52 am

    • L.R. Knost

      Thank you! I pray for wisdom and guidance for you as you work through your re-parenting process. God bless.

      January 2, 2012 at 12:23 pm

      • KK

        Awwww!!! This is awesome, Thank You!! I’m with Allison, I find myself crying and telling my baby girl who’s 3 yo that I’m so sorry the times I’ve failed her and not staying calm and I tell how much I hate reacting that way and that is not right… I love my daughter so much, and she’s one of those kids that’s just way too smart and has such a strong personality… She’s learned to tell us that she doesn’t like it that we’re mad at the moment when it’s happening and/or even afterwards. I’ve thought her that its ok to ask for love when you need it but I feel like she learned to also do it when she’s doing something she’s not supposed too and acts for love right away, it usually gets to me only when she’s being completely rude to me 🙁 those are the only times I ask her to please calm down and I will no problem give her some love… I’ve learned and have tried to explained to the hubby that she doesn’t like it when someone yells or talks to her in any mean way, she gets worse actually so I’ve told him to try to approach her in a more positive way… He saw exactly what I meant not too long ago, but it saddened me to hear him say that she knows better and/or that is trying to manipulate us 🙁 and how she’s old enough to listen he first time we tell her something!!! I know he feels that way bc our parents think the same way although my parents have a come a long way thankfully…. And we went to see parental guidance at the theater and there was this part where the grandfather almost spanked his grand kid and said how their parents told him to use peaceful parenting and how he tried but all the kids kept saying was no and they just wouldn’t listen and how their parents don’t spank them (and hubby made a remark as
        Saying exactly) stuff like this hurts me :-/ I’ve tried talking to him and I’m just not getting through him no matter what not even by using the examples you use in these article…. It does make it harder for me, and the times i do fail my baby just breaks my heart and I know there’s no excuse 🙁

        January 7, 2013 at 10:03 am

        • L.R. Knost

          I hear you, mama. It’s hard when our spouses aren’t on the same page with parenting ideals and practices that we are. All I can tell you is to keep working on your own parenting, your own connection with your little one, and let him see how you can set and enforce boundaries gently and effectively. Have you seen ? If he’s willing to read through some of the ideas there, he may understand that there is a distinct difference between gentle parenting and passive parenting.
          Either way, for yourself just keep in mind that the goal of gentle parenting isn’t to ‘work’ in the sense of making our children perfect, because they already are perfect. They are perfectly children in every way–getting into things because of curiosity, acting out because of frustration, not cooperating because of testing out their independence, etc.–exactly as they should be. The goal of gentle parenting is to guide them through the same perfectly normal stages and behaviors of childhood that all children, even punitively parented children, experience, but to do the guiding in a peaceful, kind, and empathetic way. Your little one will test and challenge you at times or all the time, depending on her own unique personality, so equip yourself with the tools you need and work to model the behavior you desire, but also be kind to yourself and give yourself grace when you make mistakes. That’s a powerful lesson to our children in and of itself!

          January 8, 2013 at 11:54 pm

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  45. This is an awesome post. I have tried to always “listen” to what my son is telling me even before he knew how to talk in words. Even when it was just babble, I would respond like I understood what he was saying.

    Thanks for linking up with the Tuesday Baby link up a few weeks back. I would love for you to link up again this week!

    July 30, 2013 at 8:12 am

  46. Ines

    Great post! I am glad I am reading this while my kids are still young. It is all about improving communication and understanding now! Not tomorrow, but NOW. Loved the post!

    August 7, 2013 at 9:01 pm

  47. There is a difference between a baby crying in arms and a baby left to cry alone. The latter does damage to the wiring of the brain.

    Also, I WANT TO WIN THE GRAND PRIZE!! Pick meeeee

    August 7, 2013 at 9:06 pm

  48. Kelly

    Love this post. I knew deep in my heart that babies can’t manipulate, they just have needs. The more I meet my daughter’s needs, the more she thrives. Thanks for your insights!

    August 7, 2013 at 9:36 pm

  49. Laura Merrigan (peters)

    love this one!!! thanks so much

    August 7, 2013 at 10:50 pm

  50. Pati Mattison

    I enjoyed this.

    August 7, 2013 at 11:47 pm

  51. Heather

    Awesome. I always wonder if a cashier spoke to the parent in that manner they’d be furious, so why is it ok to do it to your child who you love?

    August 7, 2013 at 11:57 pm

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