Question:

I think girls to be just as aggressive as boys but in a different way. Does God allow mean behaviors such as being manipulative and subversive to get what one wants? Please tell me, how do you turn around a catty, snippy or snooty child?

Answer:

Oh, I agree; aggression can be demonstrated in different ways. And, yes, the ways girls tend to demonstrate bad behavior are usually different from boys, just as girls are different from boys. Yet bad behavior remains just that -- bad.

What you are describing is called craftiness, cunning, backbiting, and whispering in the Bible.

Whispering is talking about others behind their backs. "All who hate me whisper together against me; against me they devise my hurt. "An evil disease," they say, "clings to him. And now that he lies down, he will rise up no more." Even my own familiar friend in whom I trusted, who ate my bread, has lifted up his heel against me" (Psalms 41:7-9). Whispering is the wedge that drives friends apart. "A perverse man sows strife, and a whisperer separates the best of friends" (Proverbs 16:28). It is found listed among various sins in II Corinthians 12:20.

Backbiting is slander. It is the attempt to bring a person down by talking evil about them. It too is found listed in II Corinthians 12:20 as well as in Romans 1:30. Backbiting stirs up trouble, causing people to become angry. "The north wind brings forth rain, and a backbiting tongue an angry countenance" (Proverbs 25:23). You cannot be righteous and have a backbiting tongue. "He who walks uprightly, And works righteousness, And speaks the truth in his heart; He who does not backbite with his tongue, Nor does evil to his neighbor, Nor does he take up a reproach against his friend" (Psalms 15:2-3).

Craftiness and cunning is the act of manipulating people through deceit. In other words, it is a form of lying. "Everyone will deceive his neighbor, and will not speak the truth; they have taught their tongue to speak lies; they weary themselves to commit iniquity" (Jeremiah 9:5). It is a shameful act. "But we have renounced the hidden things of shame, not walking in craftiness nor handling the word of God deceitfully, but by manifestation of the truth commending ourselves to every man's conscience in the sight of God" (II Corinthians 4:2). On motivation for craftiness is to gain the upper hand over a perceived opponent. It is a way of oppressing those you do not like. "A cunning Canaanite! Deceitful scales are in his hand; he loves to oppress" (Hosea 12:7).

Obviously, these are character traits which we don't want developing in our children. How do you handle such a problem? First, recognize that it is being done for personal gain. You need to figure out what the child is hoping to accomplish and then make sure that she doesn't benefit from her manipulations. This is what God does. "He frustrates the devices of the crafty, so that their hands cannot carry out their plans. He catches the wise in their own craftiness, and the counsel of the cunning comes quickly upon them" (Job 5:12-13). Second, since at its core craftiness is an attempt to overpower others, counter it in your punishments by having the child do good deeds for which she is unable to gain any return. "But I say to you who hear: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, and pray for those who spitefully use you. To him who strikes you on the one cheek, offer the other also. And from him who takes away your cloak, do not withhold your tunic either. Give to everyone who asks of you. And from him who takes away your goods do not ask them back. And just as you want men to do to you, you also do to them likewise. But if you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. And if you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners do the same. And if you lend to those from whom you hope to receive back, what credit is that to you? For even sinners lend to sinners to receive as much back. But love your enemies, do good, and lend, hoping for nothing in return; and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High. For He is kind to the unthankful and evil. Therefore be merciful, just as your Father also is merciful" (Luke 6:27-36). Require your daughter to spend time doing good for someone else for no pay. If you can arrange it so that those she doesn't like end up as beneficiaries, even better.

Question:

Thank you for your great advice. I'm thrilled that your message was so scriptural. I'm going to print it all out today and show it to my daughter tonight and talk about this. It sure seems we need to make some changes. I know it's our fault. I want to stop her craftiness and snottiness, but I have no idea how to actually get her to listen! Does that make sense? That's why I am asking about (appropriate) consequences and such. Is this a self-esteem issue?

Answer:

There are two points I would like to consider. I believe you when you say your daughter is manipulative because you stated: "I know it's our fault." As a parent, you can help or hinder a child from following the right path, but when a child chooses to behave badly, it remains that child's choice. You might have contributed to the problem, you might not have stopped it when the opportunities arose, but ultimately the burden of your daughter's behavior is on her own shoulders. "The soul who sins shall die. The son shall not bear the guilt of the father, nor the father bear the guilt of the son. The righteousness of the righteous shall be upon himself, and the wickedness of the wicked shall be upon himself" (Ezekiel 18:20). If you are going to lead her out of this bad behavior, you can't do it by excusing it.

I doubt your daughter has a self-esteem issue. In fact, I would be confident that by most measurements your daughter is loaded with self-esteem. Self-esteem is just a nice way of saying a person is prideful. A manipulator has a lot of pride in herself. She has decided that what she wants is more important than anything else, so she is willing to use half-truths and deceptions to get her way. Self-esteem is the opposite of a Christian's goal: "Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself. Let each of you look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others. Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus, who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross" (Philippians 2:3-8).

You might not get your daughter to listen immediately, but you can get her to learn. That is why I suggested that you require her to do chores or services for other people where she does not personally benefit. The experience will chop away at the root cause of her attempts to manipulate other people to get her own way.

Question:

I am incredibly thankful for your answer, but it is still frustrating to deal with her. There is nothing like a sulking obstructing preteen to ruin the well-being of the entire family. She is a master of manipulation. When required to do chores for other people (nieces), she initially is sweet and demure, then suddenly has a Grade A temper tantrum in front of everybody. She is used to getting what she wants simply by having a tantrum or being nasty. She refuses to take responsibility for her behavior. It's everyone else's fault. Does it go away?

Answer:

You aren't the first to ask me that, and I'm sure you won't be the last. For the most part, moodiness is a common problem for girls going through adolescence. The surging hormones are difficult to get used to or control. Just ask your husband if he notices your mood swings each month. If he's not too afraid to say anything, he'll probably roll his eyes and think, "What did I do to deserve this!" And you have experience; your daughter doesn't.

Another contributing cause is that teenagers are not able to judge other people's body language accurately. A recent study showed that teens can look at facial expressions and overrate the mood being expressed. A look of annoyance can be seen as open hostility or raging anger. It takes several years for the teenage mind to make the right connections, but in the meantime, they are making bad decisions based on inaccurate input.

If it is not allowed to develop into a habit, she will gradually learn to control her moods. For many girls, it settles down in their late teenage years. For parents at the leading end, five or more years of volatile moods seem to be forever, but you'll survive. What we need to do is keep the battle wounds down in the process.

I know you thought you were past this stage, but treat temper tantrums as you would a two-year-old. Many times temper tantrums are for show. People using them need an audience to manipulate. The proper response is to calmly state that you are not interested, and send her off where there is no audience, such as her room. Too many parents cave because they are embarrassed or would rather avoid a fight. She knows this, that is why she uses these methods to get her way. Now you know this. As you see her putting on a display, tell yourself it is not really real. Think of it as watching a movie and start rating her performance. This little technique will help separate her emotions from yours. Whatever you do, never give her what she demands with a tantrum or nastiness. Even if it would have been reasonable, the use of those techniques means an unqualified "No." If you and your husband stick to this, then she'll give up. If you consider and grant reasonable request presented nicely, she'll turn to those methods. However, if you give in every once in a while, it will take a much longer time to break her of these bad habits.

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