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     Volume 6 Issue 17 | May 4, 2007 |

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Food for Thought
Masters of Manipulation
Farah Ghuznavi

Conventional wisdom encourages us to think of children as the personification of innocence and purity. And while each of us is utterly convinced that our little angel is indeed the loveliest and sweetest creature that ever walked the earth, the reality is that each child has his or her less-than-innocent side (as any parent, speaking honestly, will admit)! What is perhaps more accurate, is to say that children represent human nature in all its glory - and its gut instincts. They have not yet learned how to modify their personalities to too sophisticated a degree - though some of them are getting there fast!

One of the most fascinating things about child watching is realising just how many ways children go about getting what they want (or making whatever point they might want to make!). Their tactics range from tenderness to terror, and just about everything in between: persuasion, procrastination, confrontation - and when all else fails, negotiating their way through their own brand of reasoning!

A friend of mine commented on how effectively her young daughter manages to get away with manipulating her older brother - usually persuading him to do whatever she wants - despite the three and a half year age gap between the two of them. The other day, she wanted to play with one of her brother's toys, which he was already using. Undaunted, she said "Amakey debena, Dada? Ami tomar chhoto bone na? " ("Won't you give it to me, brother? Aren't I your little sister?") Clearly aware that he was fighting a losing battle, her brother gracefully gave her the toy - to be rewarded with an emphatic, approving "Good boy, Dada!" from his triumphant little sister (that too, in a tone similar to that used with dogs)!

Tactics around procrastination can most clearly be seen when children are unwell, since they inevitably tend to want their way more than usual, not least where contentious issues such as medication are involved! My friend Tina's daughter Joya dealt summarily with her mother's attempts to give her medication during a bout of fever, by saying - very firmly - " Ami ekhon oshudh khabo na. Ektu poray. Ekhon jor eshechhey to!" ("I won't have the medicine now. I'll have it a bit later. I have a fever now, you see!")

Another friend's daughter, Laleh, did an even better job, managing to avoid drinking her ORS for no less than four hours during a bout of diarrhoea! She negotiated a number of small treats preparatory to drinking the saline (storybook, chocolate etc) and then cheated on her side of the deal. Basically, she pretended to her mother that she was about to drink the ORS and then mysteriously "forgot", until her mother noticed the saline lying untouched several hours later… Needless to say, when the matter was queried, Laleh looked suitably innocent!

Sometimes, manipulation will do the trick quite well. I remember an incident during my childhood when I wanted to attend a friend's birthday party, and I knew that my mother would not allow me to stay as late as I wanted to (the party was due to end at the hitherto unheard-of hour of 6 p.m.!) So I took the easy way out and asked my father, who predictably enough, agreed. When I subsequently took the matter to the highest authority (i.e. my mother), and she just as predictably said no, I was able to say, "But father said yes!"

I knew instinctively that the situation would be complicated when one parent had already agreed, and was quite shameless in using that to my advantage (as children usually are!). To my horror, however, on that particular occasion things backfired a little because my mother burst into tears and said, "Why do I always have to be the mean parent? It's not fair! If I let you guys get away with everything you want to, you'll just grow up to be horrible!" I hate to admit it, but she was right...

Sometimes though, things can get ugly, and not just because manipulation tactics have backfired. A friend of mine who is notorious for the fact that he and his wife argue a lot (although they have a fundamentally sound relationship) realised just how much small ears DO pick up, when he attempted to remonstrate with his five-year-old son. "You have to do as you are told!" he said to Sammy, exasperated by his disobedience. Without missing a beat, and clearly referring to some parental argument he had overheard, the boy shot back "Why? You don't do as you're told!"

In the end, the best way for kids to get what they want is probably to come up with some kind of reasoning that makes tactical sense. In this regard, the most seasoned adult could learn a lot about negotiation skills from my favourite two-year-old, Joya, who is exceptionally bright, and therefore tough to get the better of (as her hard-pressed mother would no doubt agree!).

As Joya is generally reluctant to eat, one of her mother's catchphrases is "No food, no video/ storybook/ toy" (or whatever else she may actually be interested in having!) i.e. most of the time, heavy-duty bargaining goes on in order to get this little girl to eat or sleep. In fact, with regard to the latter point, her attitude is very much like that of the 11-year-old daughter of my friend Aasha, another delightful child, who regularly pleads with her mother not to send her off to sleep with the argument, "Don't make me go to bed, I might miss something!"

Anyway, a few days ago Joya wanted to listen to a particular song from the film video, starring an actress called Kajol (the film was a Hindi film, "Fanaa"). She asked her mother, Tina, to put it on for her. Her mother, meanwhile, was heading for the shower and therefore told her that she would put the video on later, after she had finished. Joya the expert negotiator was having none of that! Very firmly, she said, "Ma, no Kajol, no gosol (shower)!" Kindly note the harmony of this (it even rhymes…!) So, how do you resist a child like that?



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