Playing The Guilt Game


Pretty much right from their first breath, children are experimenting with different ways to get us to do what they want.  Different timbres and pitch rejected or filed away for further use based on the effectiveness of each individual scream and cry.  Later on it becomes tantrums and hissy fits, the more public the better. Incessant, ear bleeding, aneurysm inducing whining. Two of my daughter’s preferred techniques were either to simply continue asking over and over until all will to resist was ground down and washed away or to use some variation of “pretty please” followed by a combination of various treats to go “on top.”

Amateur inveiglements now set aside for the most effective form of psychological manipulation that one person can inflict upon another – the  guilt trip.

When she started kindergarten, I talked about what that was going to mean for our time together.  I don’t get home from work until after bed time most nights of the week, so there are several days when the morning routine is our only time together.  I talked about the teenager’s sharp words about time spent with her and how deeply they cut.  I talked about my guilt.

Attempts to maximize this time that we do have together have led to a pretty full schedule of fun whenever I’m not working.  Wednesday afternoons at the park, wings and movies with the teen, roller skating just about every weekend.  It’s also led to expectations that I can’t always meet and opportunities for the little to try out her new means of persuasion.

She has less than adequate comprehension about things like money and bone weary exhaustion on a Sunday morning.  What she knows is that she wants to do something, that there will be several days past before I’m able to bring her someplace again, and that by reminding me of this, there’s a pretty good chance that we are going to go.


the power of guilt
trying to look sweet and innocent


So where did she learn such Machiavellian machinations?  How to harness the power of guilt for her own purposes?

The same way that all children do eventually.  They learn it from us. It’s the basis for almost all behavioral modification, whether consciously or not.  When a child does something good we shower them with words of praise and approval.  When they are bad we take away that approval and show disappointment.  Punishments and the learning of consequence of action are part of the process, but I’m starting to believe that when a child chooses not to repeat an act that they had previously been punished or reprimanded for, avoidance of that feeling of guilt, of having that approval taken away from them based on their actions, is just as much a reason for the change in behavior as any other.


This morning I woke up in a pretty foul mood.  I didn’t feel well, my back hurt, and it was too damned early for any reasonable person to be awake.  My daughter naturally decided that this meant it was the perfect day to practice jumping from one section of the couch to the other, over and over, and blatantly ignore my increasingly loud demands for her to stop.

I soon snapped and she immediately fled up the stairs in tears, scared by an outburst that was uncharacteristically incensed.  I stayed downstairs, morosely clinging to my moral superiority until she returned, head hung low, and promised to behave if it meant we could spend some more time together before I left for the day.

Some time playing something a little more fun than the game of guilt tag that I think that she had already won.


31 thoughts on “Playing The Guilt Game”

  1. Weird how they can all do that! Make you feel guilty when you’re kind of in the right … Glad you got things sorted and were able to have some good moments with each other 🙂

  2. She’s got you right in her sights. All kids do that to their parents with such finesse don’t they? Sometimes it is almost award winningly accurate. Is there such an award? Or is just getting what they want enough?

  3. my youngest is great with the guilt trips not just on me but on his dad too! Yep, he’s got us wrapped around his finger when it comes to the guilt trips, lol.

  4. Oh, kids always get what they want with all the possible means. And I’ve noticed that dogs do the same, they are the same manipulators and always play guilt games :))

  5. We aren’t perfect my love, none of us are. Guilt is something we all suffer from and I am sure your little ones know how much you love them despite the odd outburst (which we also all have). Thanks for linking up to #TuesdayTreasures.

  6. Eurgh I hate their little faces when they are upset. The grem has a lovely way of saying, “but we haven’t had any mummy-grem time today!” Never fails to make me feel bad and usually we have HAD time!! xx #thatfridaylinky

  7. Kids are born with this wonderful ability control us at parents. But of course what goes around comes around lol just wait and watch them with their own children fab post mate Thanks for linking to the #THAT FRIDAY LINKY come back next week please

  8. Oh I think all parents feel guilty about things at times, it’s a way of life sadly. I feel guilty for telling my kids off, even when they’re been naughty! Haha! Thanks for linking up to #ThatFridayLinky

  9. I worry about feeling guilty – my kid is eight months and I already feel so guilty about a whole host of things. Thanks so much for linking up at #KCACOLS. Hope you come back again next Sunday.

    1. if you are feeling guilty about feeling guilty that’s a bad road to head down! I think as parents we drive ourselves just as nuts as our kids do

  10. It’s amazing how quickly they learn how to get their way. Peachy is only 17 months old and she already knows that being super sad can get mommy and daddy to give her just about anything she wants. We try to not give in to her demands all the time but it isn’t easy. That face! The sadness! It’s unbearable and I suspect Peachy knows it. Thanks so much for linking up at #KCACOLS. Hope you come back again next Sunday.

  11. Haha they have such a skill for it. I can’t tell you how many times my little ones do something that warrants a telling off and then before you know it I am hugging them feeling guilty, because they something that tugs at the heart strings! I think its called being wrapped around their little finger eh. #KCACOLS

  12. Ahhh she sounds like a real daddy’s girl! I think as parents we always feel guilty about somethings and our kids just aotomsticalky know how to get their way with us! #KCACOLS

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