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At What Age Do Babies Start to Manipulate People?

From the first time you saw your baby, you already know for yourself that they already hold a piece of your heart; from the very moment you have them, the moment you saw their eyes, and especially the moment that they smiled at you, you already know that you are doomed. But can these cute munchkins really manipulate people?

According to scientific studies, babies can manipulate people around them by 8-12 months old. Babies can influence the people around them to get the attention, food, comfort, and their other basic needs met in the first steps of communication with others.

So while your baby may be learning how to communicate, it doesn’t mean that they’re ready to manipulate people into doing things they wouldn’t normally do. But can they learn to become manipulative little kids? Read on to learn more.

Image of a mother holding her crying baby

Can Babies and Toddlers Manipulate Their Parents?

According to Hiroko Nakayama’s study from the University of the Sacred Heart Tokyo, Japan, a baby can deliberately manipulate you through their cries (source). Nakayama’s research focuses on the emotions of babies before they cry and after they stopped crying. In one instance of Nakayama’s analysis, an 11-month-old infant intentionally manipulated her mother through crying.

Moments before that, the baby showed signs of positive emotions while playing with her but, when her mother turned away for a few seconds, the baby started crying. When the mother turned back to her, the baby smiled again. According to Nakayama, the baby deliberately cried to get her mother’s attention – and conveyed that she wants to play more with her. How clever, right?

Nakayama also said that this shows how babies can fake their cries in order to get the attention of the people around them and get what they want. But, their fake cries should not be ignored, according to Nakayama. Nakayama added that it might sound insane to some parents, but responding is very important to an infant’s social and emotional development.

Another study from a group of students of the University of California, San Diego, also said that baby smiles could also have ulterior motives (source). I mean, who can avoid these smiles? They are the cutest and it has so much effect on everyone. Some parents are even willing to make silly faces to get that smile from them. But, according to a recent study from the University of California, it shows that babies can use these smiles in order to get what they want from their parents and other people around them.

According to the study that they made, infants under four months old or much younger have more innocent intentions, and they still don’t know what manipulation is. However, when they already entered the stage of 8 to 12 months old, babies can already practice anticipatory smiling, which can influence the people around them. For example, they will look into an object; like a toy or a thing that caught their attention, they will smile at it, and then they will turn that smile to the person they are with, and you will presume that they want you to get that object for them. Smart, right?

How Will You Know When Your Child is Manipulating You?

As parents, we won’t know right away that our child is already manipulating us because of our love for them. We all have that soft spot in our hearts for our children. So it’s tough to recognize if they are already taking advantage of us.

As they grow older, their action also changes until it is already hard to tame. As they develop new and creative ways to get what they want, it affects us badly until we lose our temper. Pushing our buttons and wearing us down is their favorite way to get what they want, and as parents, we will do everything to stop their whims; we won’t know right away that they are already manipulating us.

So, how to know when your child is already manipulating you? Here are some signs to help you recognize manipulative behaviors so you won’t get sucked in by them.

  1. Fake cry – As mentioned before, in Nakayama’s research, infants or toddlers use fake cries to manipulate their parents or the people around them to get what they want or to just simply get their attention.
  2. Throwing tantrums – Tantrums happen when your kids are tired, uncomfortable, want something, or they are just simply hungry. Tantrums are one of their manipulation techniques to get what they want, and sometimes it involves screaming at the top of their lungs.
  3. Sweet gestures – Beware, if your child suddenly comes to you and hugs you or kisses you for no reason at all, he or she is probably up to something. They will use sweet gestures to manipulate you, and if you say no to their request, they will frown at you and sometimes hide in their rooms until you comfort them and let them have their ways.
  4. Pitting one parent against the other – This is one of the most ingenious manipulation techniques of children. If your child can’t get what they want from you, they will turn to their dad or someone else who will surely give them what they want. They will even use fake tears to get you to agree to what they want. Tsk, tsk.
  5. Big deal – One of the signs your child is already manipulating you is through by making a big deal out of minor issues, like what to wear, what should they eat, when brushing their teeth, and even in the time that they should sleep. If your child is making a big fuss over these things, then they are trying to exert control over you. They will insist on what they want until it wears you down and give up on your own.
  6. Naughty on purpose – Being naughty on purpose is one way to manipulate you or get your attention. Your child probably knows what he is doing is playful, and if you disagree on what they want, they will do it again and again to keep your blood boiling.
  7. Pouting – One of the obvious methods of manipulation of children is through pouting. They will sulk in one corner, pout, and give some fake tears to make you feel sorry for them. Can you really avoid their puppy eyes?
Image of a baby playing with food

How to Avoid Getting Manipulated by Your Child

Toddlers and children, in general, will try everything (and I mean everything) to test your limits; they will try different techniques to manipulate you. Here is a list of how to avoid getting influenced by your child.

  1. Do not let your emotions rule you – Your child will do everything to get a reaction from you. They will know right away if their tactics work when they get the response that they want from you; then, they will use it repeatedly to rile you up. So, never let it get into your emotions. Don’t be emotionally blackmailed.
  2. Keep in mind that you are the adult here – You should learn how to put your foot down reasonably. Pick your battles. Too much control from you will only result in a more rebellious attitude soon, and it will only cause more headaches for you.
  3. Set limits and be consistent with your discipline – The goal of disciplining your toddlers is to help them choose acceptable behaviors and to help you establish your control. Adjusting your parenting style as they grow up is also an excellent way to have a better relationship with your child. 
  4. Know your triggers – Your child can use your weaknesses to push your buttons. If you know what triggers you, you can prepare beforehand, and they will not be able to stir you up once they use it on you.
  5. Don’t give in to your child’s every whim so quickly – If they are used to always getting what they want, they will not learn how to exert effort in everything that they will do soon. Your child will believe that they can get it with just a snap of their fingers. So, don’t give in so easily.
  6. Hold them accountable for the things that they will do – Don’t let them off the hook so easily. Holding them accountable doesn’t mean that you don’t love them anymore; most children will think that you don’t love them because you are giving them punishment. Explain to them calmly that what they are doing is wrong. Remember not to give them harsh punishment, ok?
  7. Consider listening to your child and be more empathetic towards them – Listening to them is already a big step in preventing them from having manipulative behavior. Listening also lets them know that you care about them, and then they will later see that they can open up and confide in you about their feelings. Getting mad at them will only make them feel bad about themselves, and it can cause the start of manipulative behavior. So, always believe in them and always show them that your love is unconditional.

If this sounds too hard to do without a step-by-step guide, don’t worry. There’s a great book that will walk you through this. And if you check with your local health department, they may even offer classes that teach the methodology you need to understand how to do this.

This site uses referral links from advertising partners. As an Amazon Associate, I can earn from qualifying purchases.

But if you don’t want to wait, make sure you learn how to let your children learn accountability the right way – with love and logic. It’s been the single best book we’ve read as parents, and I recommend that every parent learn how to use Love and Logic (available on Amazon) to help their children own the decision-making process while also teaching them empathy.

When Do Babies Start Crying for Attention?

Why do babies cry? Babies cry for two reasons; first, this is their way of communicating or vocalizing their emotions. Second, they use crying to get your attention and speak to you about their needs, like if they are hungry, tired, uncomfortable, or need a diaper change.

So, it’s pretty standard for babies to this as this is the only way they know how to get your attention or communicate what they want. They start crying during the first two weeks of their birth, and as they grow older, it will lessen. Eventually, it’ll be replaced with other communication methods.

There are times when your baby won’t stop crying, and it’s frustrating when you don’t know what to do. To help you, here are some consoling and coping techniques that will help you control yourself while the baby is crying. They can also help you calm your baby down.

  1. Hold them in your arms while gently swaying them from side to side; this is one of the best ways to stop them from crying. You can also use a rocking chair once you get tired of swaying them in your arms.
  2. Gently stroke their hair or gently pat their legs to help them calm down. Gently stroking their hair is also a good way for you to tell them that you are just beside them.
  3. Hugs and tender kisses can also help your baby feel safe, secure, and loved.
  4. Play some soft music or singing to them is also an excellent option to lessen their cries.
  5. Talk to them calmly. Baby talks are also important; you may not understand what they are saying but, it is an excellent approach to keep them calm.
  6. See if they need something, like to be burped. Burp them to relieve them from trapped gas bubbles, mainly after you feed them.
  7. Take a hike. If all of that doesn’t work, maybe a nice walk outside can help. A new fresh environment can help your baby relax more.
  8. Try a bath. Sometimes a good soak in the tub will fix the problem. You might also want to put some rubber ducks for them to enjoy taking a bath.
  9. Practice deep breathing and calming techniques. Your baby won’t be able to copy you… yet. But when they’re bigger? They’ll be used to counting to 10 to help themselves calm down – because they’ve seen you doing it.

Once they are satisfied, or they were able to get what they want already, their cries will automatically stop. The more you respond to their cries, the more chance your baby will cry less.

What Does the Research Say about Spoiling Babies?

According to the research of Professor Darcia Narvaez of the University of Notre Dame’s Department of Psychology, it is impossible to spoil your babies at an early age (source). Narvaez said that picking your baby and cuddling them every time they cry doesn’t mean that you are already pampering them.

Narvaez also said that what you do in your baby’s early months can affect their brain functions for the rest of their lives. She said that it is only normal for babies to expect you to hold them, touch them and care for them. Narvaez added that caring for your baby will help them grow healthier, less depressed, and more empathetic towards other people as they grow older.

Dr. Armeet Singh of Unity Point Clinic in Bettendorf, Iowa, also supported the research of Narvaez. She said that it is impossible to spoil babies at an early age because this is still the time where babies make a special bond with their parents so, showing them love and affection is very important. It builds your foundation with your child for a strong relationship in the near future.

In other words, your babies may learn to start communicating by 8-12 months of age, but they still very much need you. They aren’t going to be trying to get the credit card from you to go on a shopping spree, but they will be trying to sneak in some extra cuddling time before bed.

Can You Spoil a Newborn?

Of course, we can’t avoid the fact that different parents have their own ways of raising their children; we have our own beliefs and opinions in raising our own. Some parents believe that their children should always get what they want to stop them from rebelling. While some parents also believe that indulging your child too often is bad for them.

But, can you spoil a newborn baby? Well, the answer to that is no, you can’t spoil a baby because infants don’t still have that capacity to be spoiled yet. Young babies can’t still connect the cause and effect of actions.

It is only normal for them to ask for attention; it’s not true that if you give in to the needs of your newborn, you will spoil them. Remember, it’s not bad if you just want to respond to your baby’s needs.

So, yes, it is impossible to spoil your newborn baby but, can they get spoiled later on? Yes, it is possible.

When they are already old enough and knowledgeable enough, they can already recognize what they can do to you and the people around you. But don’t falter because if they get that significant amount of love from you or the people around them, they will not grow as spoiled children. Giving them that substantial amount of love and attention will help them grow and build their foundation emotionally, physically, and intellectually.

Raising a baby is one of the most challenging and most fulfilling job in the world. Just remember that there is no perfect way of taking care of your children. Along the way, you can make mistakes, and sometimes you may feel tired. But, don’t let it get into you, love your child unconditionally and be more forgiving towards yourself, ok? 

Key Takeaways on Babies, Children, and Being Manipulated

Babies start learning to communicate at a young age. They do this by learning that it’s possible to get a reaction out of people – by manipulating them. It’s just not the bad kind of manipulation. They’re experimenting with getting you to smile by smiling at you.

In any case, it’s when children start getting older and adding in more easily identifiable manipulation tactics that you should start worrying about being actually manipulated.

But if you can take a step back and be prepared for it? Then it’s not going to be a problem. Especially not if you’re prepared with Love and Logic style parenting skills.

Because then when your now-6-year-old child throws a fit because he can’t play video games after hitting his little sister? You’ve got it with an easy, “Oh, what a bummer. I’m sad you chose not to play video games. It was your choice, but I love you.”

And yes, I totally had to do that today. So I’m right there with you. Seriously. Go get a copy of Love and Logic (click here to check current pricing on Amazon) today. You’re going to want your own copy as your children get older.

Resources

When learning about parenting or sleep training techniques, it’s important to learn from a wide variety of reputable sources. These are the sources used in this article and in our research to be more informed as parents.

  • “Can You Spoil a Baby?” Raising Children Network, Raising Children Network (Australia) Limited, 7 Aug. 2020, raisingchildren.net.au/newborns/connecting-communicating/bonding/can-you-spoil-a-baby.
  • News.com.au. “Pick up Your Crying Baby Now.” New York Post, NYP HOLDINGS, INC., 6 Feb. 2017, nypost.com/2017/02/06/anxious-your-mother-didnt-cuddle-you-enough/.
  • Pincus, Debbie. “Manipulative Child Behavior – 6 Tips for Parents.” Empowering Parents, 24 Feb. 2020, www.empoweringparents.com/article/manipulative-child-behavior-my-kids-are-too-smart-for-their-own-good
  • “Responding to Your Baby’s Cries.” HealthyChildren.org, American Academy of Pediatrics, 21 Apr. 2021, www.healthychildren.org/English/ages-stages/baby/crying-colic/Pages/Responding-to-Your-Babys-Cries.aspx.
  • Rettner, Rachael. “Even Baby’s ‘Fake’ Crying Builds Relationship with Mom.” Fox News, 30 Jan. 2015, www.foxnews.com/health/even-babys-fake-crying-builds-relationship-with-mom.
  • Ruvolo P, Et al. “Infants Time Their Smiles to Make Their Moms Smile.” PLOS ONE, 23 Sept. 2015, journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371%2Fjournal.pone.0136492.

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