Fake Crying and Manipulation

Occasionally, something I read from a parent or professional sparks such an intense visceral reaction that I need to drop everything I’m working on and respond. This recent note from Emily got my attention:

Hi.  I own a childcare and have a little 2.5-year old girl who “fake cries” nearly all day.  Really, out of the 9 hours that she is with me, 5-8 are spent crying.  Yet she has never shed a tear, and she is instantly ecstatic when she gets her way about something (pure joy). She cries about transitions, she cries about mama, she cries when we finish lunch (she knows nap time is coming).   I’ve made a spot for her in the corner (we call it the crying corner) where she can take her blanket and play with toys until she feels like joining the group. She NEVER lets go of her blanket, freaks out over having to take off her shoes indoors, and wants to wear her jacket all day.   It’s all day.

She doesn’t nap, but cries through the nap period.   I have to move her out of the nap room so the other kids can rest. I tried asking her if she would like to rest in the main room with me, and she happily said yes.  It went wonderfully the first day (she sat on the floor with her blanket, head bobbing from exhaustion, but did not sleep).  The next day, the crying started again.

The family seem to be the nicest people on the planet.  Very kind, very friendly. But they talk to her in a whine (baby talk). She has “num-nums” for meals and drinks from a “baba”. They don’t even call her by her name (Lila), but “Lie-Lie” in a sing-songy whine. The child only speaks baby talk in a whine, as well, because that’s how they talk to her.

I have a children’s therapist who visits daycare, and she says that the child is basically tantruming all day and that her behavior is learned — that when she pretends to cry, she gets what she wants. Her mother confirms that she does get what she wants with this behavior when she does it at home.

I can’t make this child happy.  She wants to stay home with her mom (she’s very verbal and tells us this). The therapist says this fake crying is learned manipulation. She advised me to ignore it and lavishly praise the positive behaviors, but they are SO infrequent!

I hate to see this little girl spend her day like this.  We are on Week 5 of daycare.  I have LOTS of kids who arrived on the first day scared, crying real tears, and took some time to come out of their shell.  They all adjust within 6 weeks and are now happy little kids who still attend my care.  Nothing I’ve done to try to help this little girl has had any impact.  Her mother dropped her off this morning at 8:30 and told me she’d been fake crying since she woke up at 6:30, apologized, and left.

I am wondering if the child should be seen for a psychiatric or neurological evaluation.  I’m at a total loss and feeling like I’m failing this little one.  Any recommendations would be appreciated.


Hi Emily,

I can certainly understand how challenging this situation must be for you and your center, and I appreciate your obvious compassion for Lila. Please excuse my bluntness, but your therapist’s assessment makes me furious. Lila is not manipulating you or her parents with fake emotions. She is doing what children always do — trying her very, very best to function in your environment. A toddler has neither the instinct nor the skillset to intentionally game a system. Rather, she will do all she can with what she knows to adapt to it.

Our perceptions of children and their behavior are a crucial starting point for any accurate assessment. What we see will always decide how we respond, and this is where your therapist gets it all wrong. She then exacerbates her erroneous conclusion that this toddler is a manipulator by advising you to manipulate the child right back! She suggests attempting to manage her behavior with over-the-top praise (that even the youngest infant would know is inauthentic) and using selective inattention. While that approach might work with puppies or lab rats, Lila is a fully aware, impressionable human being. She needs and deserves to be treated as such. She needs to build human-to-human relationships with her caregivers that – like all healthy relationships — are formed through honesty, empathy, and trust.

Okay, rant over. Now here are some specifics I suggest for helping Lila:


Lila sounds like she has an extreme sleep deficit, so it’s no wonder she can’t function or even relax enough to take a nap. Overtiredness will do that. It might be that her parents are having a hard time setting limits with her at bedtime. They might be struggling to provide a secure, predictable environment for sleep. They are very likely challenged (as most of us are) to be able to accept any and all of Lila’s uncomfortable feelings and allow them to be fully expressed. Doing so is crucial for Lila to be able to sleep, eat, play, and generally function well. As her caregiver, there’s only so much you can do to provide her with a healthy nap environment, and it sounds like you’re doing it. So, I would focus on accepting her feelings…

Normalizing the flow of feelings

I don’t believe it is our place or the slightest bit helpful to decide whether or not another person’s feelings are real. Our best response always is to accept and acknowledge the feelings however they show up – just accept, and not try to “handle” those feelings. As I’ve shared in many of my posts and podcasts, acceptance is not an active verb. It does not mean dropping everything to comfort a child (unless they are obviously hurt). It doesn’t mean we need to crouch down and speak in a soothing voice until that child feels better. While it’s nice to do that sometimes when we are available, dropping everything may demonstrate a hyper-concern, spotlighting a child’s feelings as if expressions of emotions are an unnatural event rather than a normal, cyclical flow of moods and feelings.

I would also stop asking her to move to a special place to express her feelings. It will help you and her family to normalize them if you can confidently carry on with her in whatever mood she’s in. “Sounds like you don’t feel like going outside with us right now. I hear that! I’m going to give you a helping hand because we want you with us.” If she resists: “It seems this is very hard for you. You don’t want to come outside.” While you acknowledge those feelings, kindly move her along with confident momentum.

Even with your patience and valiant efforts, it is true that you can’t, as you say, make Lila happy. None of us have that power with another person. Our best chance of fostering happiness is to make it our goal to fully accept and trust every feeling that presents itself. Acceptance is the best relationship-builder, and your relationship with Lila will provide a sense of comfort and ease Lila’s stress.

As I said, I couldn’t disagree more with the therapist’s perception of Lila as manipulative, but I do agree that much of her behavior is the result of conditioning. Everything we do as parents teaches children something about us, themselves, and relationships in general…

Unlearning helplessness and finding strength

From your description of the interactions between Lila and her parents, it seems they may be infantilizing her. My guess is that she has been habitually responded to as needy, helpless, and someone to pity, rather than as a strong toddler sharing strong opinions. Again, our perceptions matter a great deal. They not only inform our responses to behavior, but also tend to become self-defining for children. So when we perceive a toddler as weak, needy, helpless, she can begin to believe those things about herself. It sounds like Lila has taken on that identity.

So, instead of addressing the “poor baby,” I would see and speak to the strong toddler within her: “I hear you saying ‘no’, you don’t want your mom to go. You don’t want her to do that… sounds like you strongly disagree with that decision. That’s so hard when we don’t get what we want, isn’t it?” I wouldn’t say all those things at once, but that’s the direction and spirit. And I would say it in a manner that encourages her to express herself forcefully rather than sadly and helplessly. See the strong girl in her. Invite her into the room. Every toddler has one, and this needs to be recognized.

Stop perceiving this as “fake crying” and, instead, see a healthy girl with a healthy toddler will. Nurturing this perception of her will set her free.

Lila seems in very good hands. You’re not failing her! I think you’ll see a change soon, but if you continue to have concerns you might consider seeking further evaluations. Thank you for reaching out to me.


There’s more about the power of our perceptions in my book, No Bad Kids: Toddler Discipline Without Shame (which is now available in Spanish)

And in this podcast I demonstrate acknowledging children’s feelings in a manner that speaks to their strength:


Please share your comments and questions. I read them all and respond to as many as time will allow.

  1. What about whining? My formerly sunny 2 year old has started whining near constantly and it’s driving me batty… I feel like I’ve read a post of yours on this before, but I don’t remember what it said, nor do I remember how I dealt with this phase in my 5 year old! Right now I tend to get far more snappish than I want to be, and end up getting into a pointless argument with a toddler over the difference between crying and whining. Not the best. -_-

        1. Thanks, Leslie! Yes, I would treat whining similarly to “fake crying”. Just let it be. Maybe consider why it makes you feel snappy. It could be that you are perceiving it as a call to action or something you have to fix. Try to perceive it as normal and let it go.

          1. The whining bothers me too, and I know. Because my nervous system can only handle so much!

    1. Wow. How l needed this information twenty plus years ago. Good to be reading it now. Thank you.
      And thank you to the carer for their honesty in sharing such an insight.

  2. Wow. I love your response to this situation.

    1. Lois Green says:

      I am a retired teacher and now a grandma. I do think babies and toddlers need to know they are heard and understood as we all do. I would suggest making sure all basic needs like sleep, food, comfort are met. Also respond in conversation to everything said. They need to know this is a loving caring place where they are. I would also suggest going slowly with all the areas you mentioned cause trauma. For instance, transitions. Explain what is going to happen before your actually change activities. Give her time to adjust. You can never give enough love and understanding. She will improve.

  3. Janet,
    I just wanted to thank you for writing this! So beautifully said and explained. Although I have been reading and listening to you diligently for over two years now, every time you write something new, it explains another facet, another nuance.
    Lila is a very lucky girl that her caretaker has reached out to you. The therapists response made my blood boil. Hopefully, your takes and sound ideas will be taken on board, and who knows- maybe even shared with the parents. Spreading the word of respect!
    Your response made my heart sing!
    Very lucky Lila who has a caretaker who cares enough about her well-being to contact you after a “professional” has already given advice.
    Thank you for all you do and for making this available to all of us!

    1. Emily, it would be lovely if you could keep us posted on how things evolve with Lila.

      Wonderful that you reached out to Janet!

      1. Cecilia and Corinne – Thank you so much for your supportive comments! I also greatly appreciate Lila’s teacher/caregiver and hope she can give us an update.

      2. I agree! I would be interested to find out how these suggestions go in your classroom for Lila. I am also an early childhood educator, and I have had some experience with children who really struggle to settle in to group care, especially when it is their first experience with being in such a setting.
        Another thing to consider is that kids right now have been experiencing the weirdness of our pandemic reality for most of their lives! They are even more likely to be very settled with their family and wary of new people!
        Why not let her wear her jacket all day if it helps ease this transition? Is that really hurting anything? I had a situation with a child like that where she was very upset over parents leaving, transitions, etc, and having that comfort item really helped her feel safe. I would also suggest asking the parents for suggestions on something she really enjoys: bring a favorite book from home, or incorporate one of her favorite things into the materials in the classroom so that she has that to gravitate towards and share with others.

        Again, everything Janet said will go such a long way, as others have said, but I wanted to offer a few more suggestions as well. 🙂
        Wishing you and Lila the best!

    2. I would not be surprised if there is a whole lot more to this little girls distress. She could be suffering from seperation anxiety, or Sensory processing disorder. Difficulty with transitions is a sign of autism and so is Sensory processing disorder. Girls often present differently then boys. Playing with her jacket certainly can be anxiety or her trying to self regulate if her nervous system is on overload. This little girl needs compassion, support and for an OT to do an assessment on her. One of the biggest red flags of behavioral disorders is a child is crying excessively. If she is having long meltdowns (over an hour) or they are this frequent this is a major red flag that she needs help. I hope this is discussed with her family asap and the girl can get the helps and supports to move in the right direction as the earlier the diagnosis the better the outcome.

      1. We find trying to get engagement with our toddler by asking him to try and tell us what he wants or feels by using his words because we don’t understand what the crying means, works. It takes some time and patience if he is tired and we don’t make it a big deal. It seems to help him because he starts to focus on communicating and then can self regulate. Lila sounds like she is suffering toddler tiredness overload. Maybe make a blanket tent for rest time so it’s something different and a change in direction. A dark cosy space may help her settle, you may need to join her there for a period.

  4. Emma Fisher says:

    Hi very some very good advice here. Could anybody point me in the direction of advice for how to deal with a toddler ( just 2) that keeps biting and trying to hurt her new baby brother. (1 month old) she loves him and wants to kiss him and touch him and odiously doesn’t realise her own strength. We are very positive with her and she has lots of attention from everyone. I am just really struggling with how to deal with the biting. Any advice appreciated.

      1. Wow, Kelly, thank you for coming through with those links. You ROCK! Emma, it’s sounds like your daughter’s intense mix of emotions around this big transition are getting the better of her. That is to be expected. I hope the articles Kelly shared are helpful to you. Please let me know what you think.

  5. This is an amazing response. Thank you for sharing. Sorry to pick, but are the names changed? I just wonder as the girls name is quite rare.

    1. Yes, the names were changed. I guess I should have mentioned that in the post. Thanks for your kind words!

      1. Hi, thanks a lot for all the contributions and advises on this platform, am learning a lot as a new parent. I have a a ten months old daughter who changes her mood and starts crying ( no tears) every time she sees or hears her mom’s voice. She won’t sleep and fake a cry for hours especially when she knows her mom is around but she behaves,plays and sleeps like a normal baby if her mother is not around. Sometimes I get very angry with her behavior after failing several hours to stop her crying with no tears. She will cling to her moms breast throughout the night even when her stomach is full till day breaks. What can I so to stop this bad attitude of hers? Sometimes it gets so annoying that I’m even tempted to beat her .

        1. Bismark, it sounds like separation anxiety to me and is completely age appropriate and normal. I’m not sure why a baby enjoying her mother’s comfort makes you so angry, and honestly the idea you think about beating a child just for having feelings is hard for me to reconcile.

        2. Bismark,

          Please read more on this blog to learn how to regulate your own emotions and control any behavior that could harm your daughter! Your infant daughter is not responsible for your reactions to her normal behaviors and expressions. You are responsible for your emotions and reactions. If you are thinking about injuring your daughter I urge you to please get professional help.

        3. Sara Crawford says:

          My second born sounds very similar to your baby. She was very attached to me from the beginning (as she should be!) but it became very challenging as she never took a bottle or soother, and couldn’t be calmed or comforted by anyone but me at night time. My husband tried, but at times shrugged his shoulders in defeat and said “She hates me”. During the day, she was fine with other caregivers, only whining if I was there! I appreciate how challenging this is, because I’ve been through it. She is 18 months old now and things have improved significantly. She has weaned off the breast and figured out how to sleep and self soothe. It’s hard when you’re in the throes of sleep deprivation, but they get through it and grow and change. The beating comment is very alarming to hear. The baby can’t control their emotions and needs. Sleep deprivation can put a person over the edge, so I hope you can find help and support to keep yourself healthy.

    2. Cassandra Lee says:

      I am a big believer in letting kids feel their feelings, and that all feelings are valid. My son will do similar things to what is described, and I do try to react in the way in which you described, but due to the level of his emotions, it is not possible. Here is a particular 3 year old scenario I need advice with: He will scream as loudly as possible and yell when I wake him up in the morning so I can go to work. I understand why he does it, and I accept his feelings. He is tired, he feels rushed, he doesn’t like to be told what to do, he needs to have a sense of control over his life, and he probably doesn’t want me to go to work. I have been putting him to bed as early as our schedule allows, and I have been waking him up with more time so he isn’t rushed too much. All I need him to do is put his clothes on/ let me put his clothes on, and sit in the car. He screams. He wants in the bed, out, in, out, clothes on, off, on, off, walk to car, be carried, back and forth. I try to give him limited choices (do you want to get dressed in the bed or on the floor?) and a very predictable schedule (clothes, shoes, car). When it is time to get in the car, he sometimes is screaming, crying, flailing, yelling so intensely that I can’t do as the article says and validate his feelings (he is literally too loud to hear my voice) and I can’t move him along confidently because I have to be at work at a certain time and I’ve already given him time to do his thing. I end up having to hold his arms down with my legs while I buckle his carseat with my hands, and it’s actually difficult, he’s flailing and screaming/ crying/ yelling so much.


      1. Hi Cassandra! This sounds very challenging. I recommend less validation, less choice, more confident momentum and more genuine acceptance that he may well need a blowout venting session in the morning. When you try to say words to him to validate, he likely can’t hear (as you say), AND you may be saying words rather than really welcoming him to burst the floodgates while you carry on — the calm in the storm. He can’t handle the choices at this time and that’s common for children in a transition. Choices at these times can be a set-up for his failure and your frustration. Children struggle in transitions and need us to carry them through, staying calm ourselves, ideally, because we’ve normalized this venting experience as healthy for him. It sounds like you are a little too caught up in trying to calm him or make this work for him because maybe you feel sad or guilty? Truly, it is okay for him to feel this way, it’s nothing that you are doing wrong.

        Here’s my post about confident momentum:https://www.janetlansbury.com/2016/07/confident-momentum-how-to-stop-battling-your-toddlers-resistance-and-defiance/

        1. This might be not be the right thing to do but I wonder if dressing them the night before in their day clothes might help remove some of the wrangles. Soon enough they will be older and able to handle it but when they are so little it’s just tough.

  6. The therapist and the childcare giver have made anger rise from my stomach to my throat. And sadness. Deep sadness that people see children as manipulative or mentally unsound (!) instead of overwhelmed, misunderstood and frightened. Thank you for your calm, honest, measured advice. I hope it is taken.

    1. Yes, I agree that the way children are perceived is unfortunate, but I am heartened by the progress we’re making in online communities like these. Thank you, Alexia.

  7. I have a question. I work at a day care. I’ve got some pretty strong bonds with all of my kids, but one girl is particularly special, but whenever I’m there she will cry at the smallest thing. The other staff in our room don’t hesitate to tell me that she never cries like this when I’m NOT there. I used to think it was some kind of ploy for attention but now I just wonder if she only does it with me because I respond to her and that she knows I’ll listen to her and work with her to make it better. I love her to death but 5 crying tantrums in 2 hours can be exhausting. She’s 2, almost three. I know toddlers are very emotional beings and wonder if it’s something she needs to grow out of, or if it’s me? Like I said, she doesn’t do it when I’m not there but the other staff in the room, if I may, are not NEARLY as empathetic as I am with the kids. Help?

    1. It sounds like this girl knows you are someone she can safely share with. That’s wonderful. I would only look at how you are working to “make it better”. I don’t see that as our role and that could also be why you find it “exhausting”. Perhaps you are working too hard, rather than really trusting and allowing the feelings to be, just as they are. Here’s a post that might be helpful to you: https://www.janetlansbury.com/2014/11/when-empathy-doesnt-work/

  8. When my son (25months now) is showing this behaviour I normally ask him to use his words. Most of the time he stops whining/fake crying and tells me what’s wrong. The occasional time he doesn’t respond I ask him if he knows why is he whining/crying. Mostly the answer is ‘no’. If this is the case, we have a big cuddle, which solves it. It not only gives him the opportunity to explore his feelings but also his verbal communication. And on top it clearly tells him that we care about him and his feelings. Whining/fake crying is getting less and less now and he’s vocally expressing more what he wants, needs and feels.

    1. I’m so glad your approach is working for you, Esther. I would only caution you to not get too invested in “solving” the feelings for him. It really IS okay to just BE in our feelings for however long they last.

    2. That’s great…. my child is same age as yours but non verbal. So I get a lot of whining but I obviously can’t use your method….

  9. It is probably not the case in this instance but some sort of trauma may be happening to this kid. Coming from previous experience. Love your response. It’s almost impossible to believe that we live in the information age and therapists still think kids are manipulative.

    1. That’s so true, Mara. And if there is trauma, allowing the child to process her feelings as they come with our support is the best thing we can do.

    2. But toddlers are manipulative, they’re just not ‘coniving’, they don’t have the mental capacity to coordinate a plan over a longer period of time to get the desired response, but they DO have the mental capacity that if they do behavior A then they will get reaction C. My step-son literally pretends to choke if my attention slips away to simply make a cup of coffee at breakfast tine. He will pretend to fall and look at me and my wife’s reaction to see if we will come scoop him up. He will drop items of food off his highchair and look to see if we will pick it up which I’m sure every parent has gone through. Manipulation is a big part of child development.

      1. Jon, manipulation or experimentation? Children absolutely experiment to work out where our boundaries lie. Perhaps instead of labelling it manipulative you should instead examine why he is displaying this connection seeking behaviour to begin with.

      2. Thank you John. Kids most definitely manipulate. I am a parent to grown kids and a teacher. If I have an extremely emotional child I ask 3 questions – 1) do you feel safe? 2) do you feel loved? And if those 2 are yes I ask where they might be able to find joy in their day. My highest level thinker/problem-solver in class this year manipulates his friends, his parents, and his teachers. One day I asked him if he thought crying was going to change the outcome of a situation and he sat straight up, stopped crying and said YES. I told him that wasn’t the case and he hasn’t cried like that again. Of course crying for a fall or hurt feelings is different. Some kids do need extra love. Heck – kids can’t be “over-loved.” Part of loving a child is setting boundaries and communicating clear expectations.

  10. I really liked your response to this letter. Part of me also wonders if this child is experiencing chronic pain. My daughter was very whiny and cried a lot until the day she got ear tubes for recurrent ear infections. In a matter of hours, she became a happy, playful child. As a new mom, I just thought babies cried a lot! I had no idea how much pain she had been in for most of her life.

    1. Hmm… That might be something to check out, if these parents haven’t already done so. Thanks for weighing in, Bonnie.

    2. Christine says:

      I wondered the same. A family friends son would cry and whine all the time when he was a toddler, and it turned out that he has a very rare genetic disease that was causing him pain all the time. Now that he is in treatment and on medication, he’s a completely different child. It’s been such a joy watching him turn into a fun, active and happy kid!

      1. Susan Mcfadden says:

        What was the disorder?

  11. Janet, I’m troubled by your decision to lead this post with a rant. I’m sure both Emily and the therapist she consults with are doing their absolute best. Your anger poured through my screen, and it made me uncomfortable for Emily and hesitant to ever write you for advice lest I feel the wrath of your judgement.

  12. Excellent, as usual! Classic Lansbury: the strategy is: don’t react. Create the social environment YOU want to have which includes treating your child as if she is the mature creature you would most fondly hope she would be rather than the baby she seems to be.

    1. Thanks, Rick! But just to be clear… I’m not suggesting treating this child as if she is older than she is, but only to engage with her as an intelligent, aware person.

  13. Very well written and thank you. I would also recommend an early intervention assessment/evaluation for this little one. It is quite possible if not even likely that some of her issues are also related to sensory issues, the constant wearing of the jacket, the difficult transitions also could be signs of other developmental delays. It is very important she receive a full of valuation as there are treatments available and the sooner the better during the early brain development years.

    1. Thank you so much, Nancy. Yes, sensory issues are a possibility that should certainly be checked out if there are concerns.

  14. I also love your response, thank you!

  15. Elizabeth says:

    I think this child may be expressing anxiety, especially at transitions. This is common at her age. If you are able to tell this caregiver, maybe simply telling the child many times ahead of time what is about to happen, (such as at one hour til then 1/2 hour til then 15 min til then 5 min til then 1 min til), the child could mentally prepare herself and, with time, learn to trust and calm down. And do this with everything, nap time, meal time, outside time, free play time, clean up time, etc… I have found this can really help some children. Even if you think a child knows what is going to happen based on experience sometimes they don’t. Even if it has happened the same way a dozen or more times. I have seen this in children as young as 18months and as old as 8years. This technique can work like a miracle for some children.

    1. Elizabeth says:

      BTW – I was just like this little girl in this post. I remember being 3 and in both a daycare and in a childcare home. I was having extreme anxiety. I was treated as if I were being bad and they were extremely annoyed with me in both places. I had to sit on the couch in one place (not so bad) and they took away my comfort item (a doll) in the other place. I was bewildered, confused and scared and their treatment of me just made it worse. Very vivid memories to this day.

    2. That’s a wonderful idea, Elizabeth! I’m so glad you brought that up. I completely agree with you about the immense value of preparation (and wrote about it here: https://janetlansbury.com/2015/01/another-parenting-magic-word-and-7-ways-it-works/)

      I am very sorry to hear about the anxiety you suffered and the insensitive way it was handled. These early, formative years can have a lasting impact on our emotional health. Thank you so much for sharing with us.

  16. Hi Janet,

    I wonder if you can help. My son has just turned 1 and started walking a few weeks ago. I have been trying to practice RIE with him since he was about 4/5 months. I will admit, I have found it tough. Anyway, I wanted to get your advice on how to approach a few situations, especially as we are hitting early toddlerhood.

    1. How do you approach constant whining at this age? For example, some days he just seems very unsettled (even if have ruled out all the options). He won’t play independently and will hang onto my legs if I move away. So, we end up just sort of sitting around in limbo, not really knowing what to do! What are the best things to say and do when he is like this? I have read your post about clinginess but he doesn’t seem to want to sit on my lap, he just sort of looks maybe bored?

    2. I feel confused about to set/explain limits in public. For example, we were at the doctor’s surgery this afternoon and he (quite fairly) wanted to walk around. I let him do this a bit because he wasn’t happy sitting in his pram and couldn’t sit with me. However, he started walking around the waiting area and pulling leaflets off the shelves. I got down to his level and explained but he just went off somewhere else. In the end, I had to pick him up and hold him but he sort of climbed me. I also felt bad because I felt that perhaps other patients might not want a child walking around them if they were feeling unwell/anxious. I try to explain everything we do before we go somewhere but at this age it hasn’t ‘stuck’ – so what’s the best approach?

    3. Diaper changes are a disaster! I go slowly and talk to him and have done since I started RIE. But this has just never really worked. I don’t expect him to cooperate as such but he just gets so upset. I have tried standing up changes, the lot. But he just seems so very upset by getting dressed and having his diaper changed. What can I do?

    Thank you for all you do, I hope you can help.

    1. I have an 11 month old and am experiencing all of the same things – I would love to hear Janet’s responses!

  17. This is excellent and – sadly – very rare advice. The word “manipulate” should never be used to describe a child’s behavior. Children don’t manipulate, they communicate their feelings as well as they can. Please see Robin Grille’s article “Emotions are Not Bad Behavior” on our Natural Child Project site at ww.naturalchild.org/robin_grille/emotions.html.

    Jan Hunt, M.Sc., Director
    Natural Child Project

  18. I HATE it when people say or imply that kids manipulate adults, and I absolutely love your response.

    I would add to it that the parents should check Lila’s diet. Some foods (sugar, simple carbs) can lower the frustration threshold of a child.

  19. One more thing: I agree so much with your premise that there are no bad kids. I even included it in the mission statement of my new blog (see principle #3 – would love feedback on it if you have the time: http://parentingpod.com/about-us/ )

  20. What is the thought about children hurting themselves to get attention? My 4yo will fall off chairs, hit himself on the head, pinch himself, which is distressing. However, he always does it within a comfortable limit – he doesn’t really want to hurt himself. Sometimes he accidentally does though. His teachers last year (who employ some RIE practices) recommended an eval for SPD which we did. He is in OT 1x week, and one of the primary things his therapist is working on now is self-regulation.

    I think this falls under ‘Health and Safety’. I don’t think the appropriate response is an observant “Wow, you want to hurt yourself”. But I am getting tangled up between the attention seeking and the self-destruction. Any recommendations would be gratefully received.

    1. This behavior becomes a “power tool” when we demonstrate to children that we are bothered by it, so a calm response is very important. I would notice the behavior, but trust that, as you say, your child “doesn’t really want to hurt himself.” So you could even say, while nodding your head, “Wow, that made you want to pinch yourself. I see that!” But make sure your response is not one of concern or fueled with any other emotion.

      1. Isn’t a “power tool” a manipulation device? I was looking for something on ‘fake crying,’ as my boyfriend and ex husband, mother, and brother think I’m too patient/gentle and that I let my son get away with too much (right now his big thing is picky eating) . I mixed things he likes woth his food today, but he just ate the toast that he likes, no potatoes or chicken, etc. He started calling me (he’s 3) at 10:40pm. I checked on him, and he looked uncomfortable. I gave him some peanut butter on a spoon because I thought he might be too hungry to sleep, maybe thirsty, too. Anyway, we looked at stars on my phone and had snuggles. He was laying down with me, then I told him he had to get back into his bed (I was falling asleep). He gave me such mournful eyes and made crying sounds, but no tears. Even I felt he was manipulating me in the hopes that I’d let him come out and play with his toys. I suppose, though, that he’s just telling me the truth and communicating his disappointment at having to go to bed?

        1. There is alot to learn about sensory processing disorder. Picky eating is one thing that comes with it. The child can be extremely sensitive to texture and may resist changes in food. Your OT can help give you some tools to help.

          Another thing with SPD is how they proccess touch/ feelings. Some children are hyper sensitive and some have a much higher pain tolerance.

          When he hits himself on the head it is because he is on sensory overload and does not know how to regulate his emotions. Your OT can give you tools to help him with this. You can also google calming tools for SPD.

          As for your family being unsupportive you have to be your little guys voice. It is hard to understand when people who do not have SPD dont know what it is like. There are many great sensory books that explain things well and I would highly recommend having both you and your family read the book so you are able to empathize with his struggles.

          If you are having other struggles I would be happy to give some suggestions. I now have 7 years of experience with a little girl who struggles severely with SPD and anxiety that often comes along with it. Been a long hard journey but wow have I learned a ton! My heart goes out to you as it is not an easy journey but things can improve drastically with the correct approach.

  21. My kid has a strange behavior I don’t know how to deal it. If any guest comes to my home she never let us talk. She keeps talking with us and the guests and when she fed up. she creates full drama. We feel embarrassed with her strange behavior. Can you give some advice?

  22. Ashley Fleming says:

    My son turned 3 in July and I can relate to almost everything i have read that you have written. Thank you so much for putting things into prospective that I normally wouldn’t ha e thought of!

  23. Hello Janet o have many questions about my almpst17month old daughter. Total of three melt downs but I’m a single mom and it’s hard with’help’ from my godson and mom it’s like co parenting with two others who just shouldn’t say anything about parenting in my opinion. I’m so frustrated and need advise

    1. Hi Leila! Can you be a bit clearer about what you are asking? Thanks!

  24. Is acknowledging wasted when your child is crying/yelling over you? I often have trouble getting a word in between his cries. And wonder if it is wasted breath. Must I sit with him until he is calm? His yes space is in the family room right next to the kitchen. He often protests bring in there when I try to make dinner. Is it wron to acknowledge, then go into the kitchen to make dinner/wash dishes?

    1. It’s not wasted, but it might be even better to be thinking those things, while quietly holding the space for his feelings. No, you don’t need to sit with him, but just accept and allow him to express his feelings.

  25. I think this is a reach.

    My cats have the capacity to adjust the pitch of their meow to illicit a response from me for certain things based on past responses I have given them.

    If my cats can do this then a toddler has no problem achieving the same sweet deal.

    She is clearly not manipulating with ill intent in the way adults see it and are more familiar with in every day life. however, she is doing the same thing my cats do: use what works.

    This little girl has probably been given the correct/desired response [attention] with the use of whining or “fake” crying. So, she uses what she knows to get what she wants [attention/everything she wants].

    She clearly has no ill intent nor is she a monster child. This poor lady just can’t really fix the behaviour because there needs to be a consistent and routine ignoring of the fake whining.

    My boyfriend’s son used to fake whine ALL the time when he was in his crib. He would call out “daddy” and do that fake forced whine and my boyfriend would respond and thus his son would do this every night.

    On the nights I put him to bed, I do not respond to these calls nor the whining. Eventually, at 2 and a half, he knew if daddy put him to bed he’d be able to call out and get a response but if I put him to bed he wouldn’t even bother trying because I literally never gave into the behaviour.

    Young children may not understand the same way we do, but when they become aware of their autonomy and their own words and the world around them and the people in it, they learn how to act based on the worlds reactions to that action itself.

    I believe this is just a major case of bad parenting.

    1. I agree with you, and I wish Janet would acknowledge the comments that disagree with her, lol.
      Infants don’t manipulate, but toddlers certainly do learn to if there aren’t clear boundaries & expectations for them. As another commentor pointed out, it isn’t “conniving” or ill-intended but it is by definition manipulation.

      As someone who used to consider themselves an “RIE caregiver”, I had to comment because I think this post is such a great example of where RIE has serious limitations and parents/caregivers should take what’s useful while still being wary. The author instructs others not to be judgemental, then quickly discredits the teacher as well as the trained therapist, while citing no evidence beyond her own opinions and gut feelings….

      1. Yes! If you read what Janet has written about children being conditioned towards certain responses – that means that while their actions may have been learned through a lack of parenting skill/boundaries/whatever – it still is “fake”. Eg: “When I go on the toilet I get candy” – operant conditioning – rewarding the positive behavior is just another side of the coin – “When I cry loud enough I get what I want”.

        I believe myself to be a Montessorian and over the past 2 decades have seen a variety of parenting styles – many of which lead to children who, as Janet wrote, see themselves as weak/victims, etc. They whine / cry more to get what they want because they have been conditioned towards that behavior – is it manipulative – not intentionally so of course, you have to be able to abstract and have logic/reason to think out a plan/strategy – but they definitely are capable as 2-5 year olds of matching behavior to reward – whatever that is. There was a great 20 hour training on Tantrums vs Frustration Fits that helped clarify for me what was going on. I think Janet, like many adults, may be uncomfortable with words that are being used connotatively and are negatively charged. Manipulation is what it feels like and looks like even though the actions don’t fit the definition. Other words I find adults have a problem with: compliance, obedience, discipline, etc – all of these have a place in our lexicon when discussing children and ALL can be positive.

        1. Yes! Children ABSOLUTELY ate capable of manipulation. I have had huge problems with my 8 year old niece over the last year we’ve had custody using learned manipulations from her parents to try to force her will. She says “that’s what my parents do,” without realizing their bad behavior is what got them into drugs and a slew of felony charges they’re now facing.
          Kids behave how they are taught to behave. Cowering to their emotional terrorism because you’re at your wits end will only teach them that they have to get more extreme to achieve their goal.
          Instead of encouraging this toxicity that leads to selfish, shit head adults, we have a policy that whining and tantrums will NEVER get you what you want. It won’t in real life and it will not in our home. If you want something, you can ask nicely or do something to earn extras, just like a grown up. I raised my child that way and she is strong, independent, proud of everything she accomplishes, and eager to lovingly assist others in reaching the same accomplishments she has. She has pride in her self sufficiency. She has emotional self regulation because she knows that her immediate wants will not be met through manipulation and bad behavior, but through patience, kindness, well mannered requests, and working to deserve the things she wants. THAT is how you raise a kid that won’t grow into an asshole adult.

      2. Sarah Johnstone says:

        (Not sure how old the post is!)

        I actually think both perspectives are valid here – yes it seems maybe the child has learned some cause/effect behaviour (or Janet’s overtiredness theory is correct, I have 100% had lots of ‘whiny’ tired days, when they can nevertheless snap out of it if they get a moment of joy, as the author describes). What is important is the lens through which the child is viewed and how she is approached from now on – it may be there’s some digging required with parents to find out more about her home life, but assuming it is just learned behaviour, the OP has an amazing chance to try to help the child + parents overcome this situation with some steers towards a more confident leadership style. That certainly seems like it’s lacking at the moment with the babying from the parents. Children and parents do well when they can!

    2. I think she doesn’t reply to this sort of comments bc it is really such a different view and if you want a change, then you don’t keep doing what you’ve already tried and hasn’t worked. You can’t really change someone if they don’t want to.
      Fmpv: I always attended my kid in the night especially till she was 2 and then she just started to sleep better. I feel so good now about having responded to her when she needed me. It’s such a strong accusation to say it’s bad parenting.

  26. trisha7025 says:

    you ever wonder why she is crying? maybe her parents abuse her!!! Maybe its a way of her telling you cause she cant talk.

  27. I have a child I look after 5 but working st 24-36 months. Pre verbal and ASD diagnosis and she will cry, scream, lash out when she doesn’t get a toy she wants or is asked to do something she doesn’t want to do. But as soon as she gets the toy or I move away a big smile appears,the tears stops and off she goes happily playing. Again I have been told it’s learnt behaviour and manipulative.
    Is your advise the same for this child ?

    1. This sounds like hyper focusing which is apart of ASD. It is important to understand that normal tasks for kids her age can be much more difficult for her. Her parents are hopefully working with an OT and able to help you with some tips.

    2. Sarah Johnstone says:

      Frustration at difficulties in communication (and lagging skills in dealing with that frustration) seems a no-brainer? Has she ever tried sign language? Have a look at CPS/Lives in the Balance for ideas?

  28. This is about the biggest load of BS I’ve ever read. You contradict yourself throughout your message. First you say the therapist is absolutely wrong, that the child cannot be manipulating anyone… “A toddler has neither the instinct nor the skillset to intentionally game a system.” Seriously?? Most kids I’ve been around have learned at an early age how to manipulate to get what they want. Oh, but she’s well above the ability to be conned with fake praise?? “While that approach might work with puppies or lab rats, Lila is a fully aware, impressionable human being.” I think you give way too much credit here and not nearly enough on toddlers knowing full well how to “game a system”.

  29. Rachel A Jasper says:

    Great article. Needed to read this to help my kiddo.

  30. None of this takes into account the wear and tear on everyone else’s nerves. How do you propose everyone stays sane while one toddler cries for eight hours? I’ve just finished with a family who has a little boy, now 14 months, with exactly this behaviour. It took five months of ups and downs, but we made it. I used earplugs for the first time in my life.

  31. As a home child care provider, I agree with most of this advice. However I have found that RIE is really hard to follow sometimes in a group care setting when the child is not treated the same way at home. It almost ends up confusing them and stressing them out even more. Child care providers are responsible for the care of the whole group, not just one child, so it is imperative to take the whole group into account when one child is disrupting everyone. In this case, I would not be able to continue care. Hearing crying all day is highly stressful for the group and for the provider even if you are accepting of their feelings and doing everything calm and respectfully. I think the respectful thing for the child AND for the rest of children in care is to accept that this setting is not adequate for the child and suggest other forms of care like a nanny so she could have more one on one. It stinks that our society makes it near impossible for some families to choose this option or just stay home with their children, but group care is not for everyone and if a child was struggling this much, I would make sure she wouldn’t have to keep being in that setting for her own sake. RIE is great and I follow it diligently in my daycare, but if a child can’t handle it and doesn’t get consistent treatment at home and daycare, it’s hard to do, even for the most practiced RIE provider.

    1. Carika du Plessis says:

      I completely agree. My son is very sensitive to other children crying. He would not be able to function properly with crying in his surrounding the whole day long. It is not practical and productive to continue with activities with a crying kid and so stressful and unpleasant it is unrealistic to expect that from anyone.

    2. Sarah Johnstone says:

      However, it does sound like some of the most basic (and likely?) reasons for the whimpering haven’t yet been ruled out, like overtiredness, or being in pain. The attempts to nap, but not being able to, would be a big red flag for me!

  32. Wow. I look back and this is so true. Why could I not discern this at the time. So many of the comments resonate also.

  33. Cyndi Lake says:

    I have a question regarding this topic as well. Whenever my 5 year old son does or says something hurtful (I.e. i wish you werent my mom ect), I try to ackowledge his feelings as well as let him know that my feelings are hurt when he says those things. In situations like this (and any other time he says hurtful things to me or anyone else) he immediately breaks down in full tears repeating things like “im so sorry” “im so bad” and the like. No-one has ever told him or treated him in a way that he should feel like hes terrible, and when he does this I try to comfort him and he goes back to his normal mood rather quickly. I cant tell if he is sincere or if he has realized saying these things gets him “praise” (me saying he is not bad he is good ect) or gets him “out of trouble” even though he isnt technically in trouble hes just being explained to about hurt feelings and mean words. What am I doing wrong?

  34. Yes! I love this. I have always felt that “fake crying” from toddlers and children is in fact a form of real crying because they are expressing real feelings. My daughter had a big phase of this recently, and we would just sit with her, and say things like “it sounds like you’re unhappy right now, would you like to talk about it, or would you just like to sit with me while you get through the feeling?” Grocery stores were a big frustration for her, and I got so many bewildered looks, and even unwelcome diceplinary advice, from people for talking to a toddler this way rather than telling her to hush for the convenience of adults.

  35. Melissa Russell says:

    Wow. What a breath of fresh air your response was. I can’t even begin to express the frustration I have experienced with my husband over our differing opinions of our daughter’s behavior and the best course of action.

    I operate under the belief that the key to raising happy kids is to accept every thing in terms of behavior, emotions etc without invalidating or minimizing their feelings. Who am I to say how upset they should be at any given time. I adopted this approach years ago when I first heard what is now one of my favorite quotes, “being understood is so close to being loved that to the average person the two are indistinguishable.”

    Kids just like everyone need desperately to feel accepted…no matter what. In order for them to feel accepted, they need to be able to have their emotions in a judgment free environment. By validating their emotions but still encouraging them to continue whatever task they are going into, or working on will teach them that having emotions is totally fine but that you must keep moving and not allow your emotions to interfere with whatever needs to be done.

    Separating them only encourages bad behavior to continue for a number of reasons which range from the child learning that if they don’t want to do something with the group they can throw a fit and be removed(but that mindset is a few years out from Lila) or what’s far more likely in her case, she could end up thinking that there is something wrong with having feelings that are less then happy. She could feel separation anxiety or even a sense of abandonment by being excluded from the group. A child who experiences these feelings is likely going to grow up to be the kind of adult who suppresses every emotion out of fear that she won’t be accepted and that’s not going to work out well for anyone.

    All things I am sure you already knew . Just wanted to thank you for your response, and for promoting the importance of acceptance in all aspects.

  36. My eldest, Cameron, accepted when the stories were finished and went on his way, but my two-year-old, Ethan, started begging and begging for one more story, says the Scarborough, Ont., mom. Then he looked at me, and his eyes got all watery. Then he got out of bed, picked up a book and pleaded: ‘Just this one. Please? :p

  37. Nathaniel Moore says:

    Crying is the first tool that people use to control there surroundings. To get fed or really any wanted attention. To say that children do not have the capacity to game the system is a bit ignorant. This kid needs to learn other tools to get what they want and need. The parents were/are probably bit too responsive to the crying… or a multitude of other reasons. Children try and manipulate there environments just as much if not more than the rest of use they just dont have a large skill set to do it.

  38. A man's point of view says:

    I totally disagree with your response and I think the therapist is right. Toddlers and kids 100% know they are doing it to get what they want and if you keep falling into it and trying to please every little whine your child makes they 100% become a spoiled brat and wine and cry all the time even to the point where they don’t even know what they want. I think going against natural instincts on this and trying to say they have depression and anxiety or trying to make it through there hard life is absolutely absurd and all the mom’s and people spreading this stuff is going should stop they are ruining the minds of the upcoming generations of people. Life is hard , you don’t always get what you want, there are, rules that have consequences if you don’t follow them, just the basic fundamentals of life are going out the window and we think we are helping our kids by treating them like poor little helpless things that need every little whine or complaint attended to. Seriously people wake up this whole site and 90% of the comments are brainwashed mother’s that think that every kid is born with anxiety.. no you caused them to be that way by the way you are raising them so blame yourself not them.

    1. Sarah Johnstone says:

      Does Janet suggest seeing her as helpless?? No, quite the opposite (I’m not sure you actually read the article..?). It highlights the lens through which we see the child – respectful, compassionate and accommodating of feelings, but none of that translates to continually trying to fix feelings, or kowtowing to their every demand. Confident leadership! But without over-controlling, we have a few short years where the balance of power rests firmly with us, but that quickly changes as they get bigger & stronger – if we haven’t built a strong respectful relationship with them, it will quickly unravel in the later years.

  39. Emily Cox says:

    Thank you for another super helpful article! Your work helps us so much to be better parents and understand what our child is going through. I wonder if I could pick your brain with a question!

    My almost 3 year old has been through alot of changes lately since we just welcomed our second child 5 weeks ago. We’ve read and are following your advice regarding introducing a new sibling and on the whole he seems to be doing really well and is enjoying getting to know his sister with us ❤️
    However there’s some behaviour that’s really confusing to me and I feel like I would find it easier to accept and support him properly if I understood. I wonder if you could shed any light.
    It started during my pregnancy when he only wanted to be with me. Whenever my mum is around while I am my child will tell her to go away, go into another room, not look at him or not talk to him. For example yesterday he fell over and mum being the caring grandma she is reacted with a gasp and asked if he was okay. My child shouted “no grandma, don’t say that to me!” And proceeded to ask her to leave the room. He only really does this to her even though they have a very strong bond normally. My mum has him round her house one day a week and hes completely fine – it’s only when I’m there.
    I usually say something like “are you feeling shy?” Or “are you feeling embarrassed?” He says yes and I offer him a hug. I’m not confident enough that I’m naming the correct feelings to say “you feel shy” etc.
    My mum is very accepting and we would never shame him for saying these things as we know he is just trying to communicate how he feels. I’m just not sure why it’s always directed at my mum, no one else, even though she’s such a kind and caring person. It makes me sad when he has negative feelings towards her because she’s such a brilliant mum and grandma and she helps us out so much.
    I know I need to put my feelings aside like my mum does but I just don’t really understand.

    I would be super grateful for any insights.

  40. The first paragraph strongly indicates this child has a sensory processing disorder. What she really needs is a referral to an Occupational Therapist.

  41. Brittany F says:

    You’re amazing, Janet, and a life giving, life changing gift to us all!

  42. My 7 year old has started having big emotions after school. 20 minutes of crying and stomping. I’m trying to remember that I am a safe person for her to express her big emotions to and my job isn’t as much of the fixer as it was when she was young so I just try to listen. Her dad is not capable of holding space for those big emotions and just tells her she “shouldn’t cry over nothing” I try to explain coregulation to him until I’m blue in the face but he won’t change. How do I protect her from an emotionally immature parent?

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