Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Manipulation and Miss M


It's the biggest tool of a child with an Attachment Disorder, a way for them to control, even in a small way, what happens to them on a day-to-day basis.  My adopted children are experts at manipulation.

Miss M came home from school yesterday thrilled that she had been selected to sing in the school talent show, which is today.  Although I was a bit flustered by the less than twenty-four hour notice, I was pleasantly surprised...even excited...that she had done well enough in her audition last week to be chosen.  See, unlike her 11-year-old brother and her 5-year-old sister, Miss M is not naturally an especially gifted singer...but she tries hard and she really wants to be.  Don't get me wrong, she can usually carry a tune if she's singing with other people that are singing in tune, and sometimes I'll catch her singing a song that doesn't have a lot of different pitches and she sounds pretty good all by herself.  At this point, however, Miss M is definitely not a soloist.  So when she came home all excited, I thought, "Good for her!".  I figured that the song she'd chosen must have been a good fit for her. 

I was wrong.

I spent a good chunk of my evening last night listening to Miss M rehearse for the talent show.  It was awful.  Painful even.  She sang nearly the whole song in a different key than the background track, consistently came in too early or too late, and didn't even remember all the words.  I hadn't helped her before the auditions because she's sung this song for the entire year in our children's choir at church.  In fact, my husband and I wrote the song, so I assumed she knew it well enough for the auditions, although I never expected her to be chosen. 

I helped her all I could last night, and it did improve slightly, but what difference is a few hours going to make when she's already been practicing it for a year?  I found myself thinking "Who on earth would encourage this child to sing in front of her entire school?  She's going to be embarrassed and humiliated by her peers."  I wondered if maybe her audition had somehow been much better, but Miss M said that her music teacher told her she was too quiet, didn't know the words, and wasn't staying with the beat of the song.  So WHY DID SHE PUT HER IN THE TALENT SHOW???!!!

I called the music teacher this morning.  She admitted that Miss M's audition on Friday wasn't good, and that she had discussed this with her.  And then she said something that makes it all clear to me.  She said, and I quote, "But she was just so sweet, and she said she still really wanted to try it anyway."  In other words, the teacher knew what was best, but she let the eight-year-old child decide for herself because she had turned on the charm.


Sweetness is Miss M's weapon of choice.  Above all else, she desires to be in control.  When she wants something and thinks she may not get it, she becomes the sweetest thing that ever existed.  But it's only a facade.  If it doesn't work and she still doesn't get her way, she may try tears or frustration.  And then she gets livid.  My husband and I can detect the sweetness ploy from a mile away, so she rarely tries it with us anymore, but it works like a charm on unsuspecting prey.

This music teacher is just one more person in a long line of people Miss M has been able to manipulate.  Teachers, babysitters, grandparents, aunts and uncles, Sunday school teachers.  Each time she's able to change an adult's mind about something, each time she argues a "no" and gets it retracted or compromised, each time someone falls to her "sweetness", Miss M gets sicker

She learns to rely on herself more, and trusts adults and their judgment less.   

This puts me and my husband in a horrible spot. 

What do we do about the talent show?  Do we pull her out, telling her we know she manipulated the teacher?  Sometimes we have to do things like that.  Do we say nothing, even though she could be laughed at?   While she seems somewhat oblivious to her lack of singing ability, the entire school is not going to be deaf.  I'm not trying to be mean...I'm trying to protect my daughter.  Some of those kids will notice that she's not very good, and some (being children) are going to tell her...and then she'll be heartbroken.  I don't want her to be embarrassed or teased.  But I also don't want her to get away with manipulation once again.  It's just not healthy for her.  So what do we do?

We're constantly forced to weigh the situations she puts us in.  Would it be worse for her healing if we did this or did that?  Would it be better for her if we stepped in or let things be?  We have to analyze everything, and sometimes we have to let things go for the sake of her feelings.  I mean, how do you say to your daughter: "We know your audition was horrible and you only got chosen because you manipulated the teacher?"  How does that help her to form a healthy attachment to us?  Taking this into consideration, we've decided to do nothing this time except give her the best chance to succeed.
We took away the background track that Miss M was supposed to use, and replaced it with the actual recording that has people singing on it.  If she hears other people sing, she's usually on key, and she should know when to come in.  It should also help with the words if she forgets them.  Miss M didn't seem thrilled, and my son says this isn't allowed, but forgive me if I feel that the music teacher will just have to deal with it.  I love my daughter, I know what's best for her in this circumstance, and no amount of sweetness, tears or tantrums is going to change it.

So off I go to watch her, smile and wave from the back of the gym, and record her solo debut on the video camera as if she's the next American Idol.  I have to admit that I may not be paying complete attention, though, because at the same time, me and God will be having ourselves a little chat.

And please, people.  I know my children have issues and need more structure than most, but all children need boundaries.  They need to know that when you say NO, there's no room for debate, no point in arguing, and no benefit to manipulation.  They don't even need to know why you said no.  Children, especially mine, are immature and God entrusts them to adults for a reason.  They have to learn to trust that the adults in charge know what's best, and accept that their way is simply the way it is, no questions asked.  For most kids, this is just a good life lesson, but for mine, it's the difference between becoming healthy and dealing with a life-long mental illness.


  1. so angering that trauma you and your child are not responsible for has put you in a situation where you are forced to choose the "least harmful" option. i'm so incredibly proud and encouraged that you "get it" but so grieved that there is even anything to "get". so thankful miss M has you two as parents and i pray for her continued healing. this is so tough, lisa. i'm just so proud of you. i know that's NOT why you do this, but still. so proud. just the same.

  2. good job! I know what its like to have a kiddo try manipulation on me a lot. Its been hard for me since its been much harder with a husband who spent a lot of time away from the family. Now we are working even harder to overcome his manipulation skills.