Why I'm teaching my son to manipulate people with charm

Photo: Shutterstock
Photo: Shutterstock 

"How was your day?" Those are the first words my eight-year-old son greets me with when I pick him up from school each day. Isn't that lovely?

But all is not as it seems. You might be shocked to hear my son couldn't give a toss how my day was, it's just that he wants something, and he knows how to get it. Charm.

He used to greet me with "what's for dinner?".Not even a "hello". It irritated me beyond words but, to his credit, when my son worked this out he decided to change tack.

What my son wants to know, after a long day at school and after school care, is what sort of meal he's about to be faced with. Will it be something delicious he craves like spaghetti Bolognese or tacos, or will it be something less appealing he'll have to brace himself to tolerate like a stir fry or salad?

Whichever way this evening is going to go, my son wants to know. And he knows how to get this information as quickly as possible: by feigning interest in my day for literally 30 seconds.

I usually laugh when he asks me, give him a quick, not too detailed response, and then start talking about dinner. I know what he's there for.

It's just one example of how I'm teaching my son to manipulate people with charm – and I do it unapologetically.

It's something we all do, but perhaps we call it something else. Having nice manners – saying please and thank you – is manipulating people. We all learn that when we say those things people are more likely to bow to our will and give us what we want. 

When we network professionally, we make small talk and ask about people's spouses and children. We send notes of thanks when we've been to someone's home. We tell a mum from school we love her haircut. We put a love note in our spouse's work bag.

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None of it is false, but it's all designed to create goodwill between us. We want others to feel good – and a fair bit of the reason is because it creates a nice little kick-back for us.

That professional contact calls you next time they need someone for a job. We're invited back to that friend's house the next time she has a dinner party. That mum from school offers to pick up your kids from school when you're running late. Your spouse is extra affectionate with you at the end of the day.

My son has now taken this charm ball and really run with is. He'll often tell me he thinks I look lovely or that I'm the smartest woman he knows, before asking for a treat or snack. And I say yes.

I know he's manipulating me, but that's the kind of manipulation I can live with. It sure beats tantrums and slamming doors and making unreasonable demands. And although his efforts are clumsily transparent right now, the kid is eight – I figure by the time he gets to adulthood, he'll be a pro.

And yes, of course we should all be genuine. I'm not suggesting he lays it on so thick that his compliments and charm come across as disingenuous, I'm talking about sincere flattery and kindness, knowing it will grease the wheels and make your life easier.

It really goes back to that old saying, "You catch more flies with honey than you do with vinegar." We've all been teaching our children to be manipulative since the dawn of time, and I, for one, would rather be dealing with the honey. And I think I'm setting my son up for an easier ride than if he demands things all the time.

At the very least, he's way easier to parent this way.