DEAR HARRIETTE: My daughter is only 4 years old. She's pretty smart and knows how to read people and sense their emotions. She knows that when I am happy, she can ask for something she wants. If I am not happy, she tends to not bother me, and she plays and entertains herself on her own. I feel like I have a 16-year-old.
I started to catch on to what was happening when I realized that during her favorite afternoon show, she would always ask for a piece of my chocolate candy -- until one day she stopped. I don't always give her one. Out of curiosity, I checked the candy box, and it was empty! When I asked her if she had had any chocolate, she told me she never asked for chocolate today. When I asked her why she didn't ask, she said because there is no more. How did she know that? I checked the lunch box she uses to keep her snacks and found all the wrappers.
How does a 4-year-old lie and create an operation like this? I don't want her to think lying and stealing are OK. Is this something I should be concerned about? -- Manipulative 4-Year-Old
DEAR MANIPULATIVE 4-YEAR-OLD: By age 4, many children have a good sense of how to get what they want. Your smart daughter fits into that mold all too well. What you need to do is talk to her matter-of-factly and let her know your values and expectations for her. Show her the candy wrappers in her box and ask her why she took the candy without asking. Ask her how she thinks you feel about her hiding this from you. Tell her how disappointed you are that she would do this. Tell her that you expect her to tell the truth and not to take candy -- or anything else -- without your permission. Check to see if she understands.
In the future, commend her on things that she does well and point out when she should do something differently. Be consistent.