How many times have you heard someone say, “That baby is manipulating you!” Seems crazy, right? Well, yes. But sometimes, just sometimes, it also seems true. Here’s the real truth to why people think that and what’s really happening. But no matter what the behavior, know this, it’s only a problem if it’s a problem for you.
My grandmother tells it like this.
My aunt just seemed to cry all the time. Pretty much anything but being rocked by mama set her off. My grandmother, Mema I call her, was sure there was something wrong.
She booked an appointment with their doctor and prepared for the worst. The day came for her to go in and, after a thorough examination, the doctor delivered the blow…
“She’s got a case of the ‘mommies.’”
Yes, you heard that right. The baby wanted mommy and anything else wouldn’t do the trick.
A doctor would probably get the can for saying that these days. Anyway, life was easier after that because my grandmother made a few changes that allowed the baby a lot of mommy time, but also gave her space to do other things except rock in place.
At any rate, these are the types of situations that make us (or those in our circles) think our babies are manipulating us.
Babies want what they want
When a baby’s hungry, they want milk. If their diaper is wet, they want a clean one. If they are tired, they want to sleep. The list goes on. Until they can speak, they are limited in their communication methods. When a baby cries to get your attention, it doesn’t mean they are trying to “manipulate” you into “giving in,” it just means they are trying to communicate.
They aren’t thinking, “Aha, I’ve got her now!”
The term manipulate is actually quite negative. Our babies brains are not cognitively developed enough to manipulate… kids don’t even learn to lie until they are a few years old! It’s true they may cry or whine during the most inconvenient (for us) times, but this doesn’t mean they are secretly plotting our emotional breakdowns due to sleep deprivation.
They quickly learn what works or doesn’t
To put it bluntly, even babies quickly fall into your way of doing things. If you don’t start out how you can hold out, you’ll quickly start feeling a bit on edge. If crying makes you come, they will cry. If fussing means they get to go to sleep, they’ll fuss when they are tired.
If throwing down the spoon in the highchair means mealtime is over, they start throwing when they are full. This isn’t manipulation, it’s actually a sign they understand cause and effect. In most cases, this is a great thing.
Wanting attention is not manipulation
Babies need their mamas. They need cuddles, love, attention, and sustenance. We don’t always know which they want at what time, but still. If they cry for you because one of their basic needs are not met, they aren’t manipulating you, they are desiring attention.
Attention is necessary for young babies and, depending on your child’s personality, the amount they want will vary. If your child consistently needs to be held, and you need a break, that’s okay. It’s okay to meet their needs and then meet your own. Babies crave love, attention, and bonding with their mothers, and they will do what they can to get it.
“Giving in” to undesirable behavior will encourage it to continue
Even so, if you are having to do certain things you don’t like or want to continue, then don’t. This is where many feel manipulated. They reluctantly go back into the crib 13.5 times a night to reinsert the pacifier. They feed the baby for 2 minutes and 14 Mississippis every half hour all night. And then they get ticked off their baby is crying and manipulating them to make them do it.
No, your baby just knows you’ll continue to do what you’ve always done. If you don’t want to do something (and know that stopping isn’t harmful or neglectful to your baby) then just stop doing it. Soon enough, your baby will catch on. They are super smart and responsive. See point #3.
You love your baby.
Your baby loves you.
“Bad timing” is purely coincidental on their part.