Emotional Blackmail and How it Harms our Kids

· August 1, 2018

Emotional blackmail is, unfortunately, a strategy that many parents use when bringing up their children. They use guilt, fear, intimidation, threats and often also patience and affection, all to get their children to do what they want. The truth of the matter is that many parents are unaware of the consequences that this can have on their children. They don’t realize how their dubious methods can affect the relationship they have with them.

Using emotional blackmail with children is a very tempting form of manipulation to condition their behavior. Blackmail is also something that children can learn by “example” from their parents. It isn’t a method that we usually consciously choose. However, when we see how effective it is, then we often decide to continue using it.

Online there are thousands of articles that talk about emotional blackmail in families. This can be the parents using it on their children, but also their children using it with their parents, using tantrums and threats to get what they want. The reality is that this is something children learn at home. When parents say things like: “If you don’t get good grades, we won’t love you any more”, “If you’re naughty, you won’t get any presents from Santa Claus” or “If you don’t tidy your room, we won’t get you any more toys”.

“There are only two sure ways to get people to do what you want. Either you put on an iron glove and force them, or you tell him that God wants them to do it. “

-Raymond Khoury-

Why do we resort to blackmail?

We often resort to blackmail because it can give us back control when we don’t know how to get it another way, or how to get children to obey without protesting. Control is not synonymous with education. Telling our children what to do, how to do it, and threatening them if they don’t do it immediately, reduces their decision-making capacity to a minimum. This creates a breeding ground for them to be either overly dependent or very rebellious in the future.

Mother cross with son

Using emotional blackmail in children can be the worst remedy for our insecurity as parents. It is also one of the worst ways to “protect” ourselves from our child’s questions. It may also show that we have don’t have much patience to respect their times for doing things,  and/or little tolerance to accept that they can do things their way, a way that is different from ours.

Applying emotional blackmail with our children can perhaps help us not to get so tired. It can also facilitate making decisions for them that are the easiest for us, all in order to get them to do everything we want them to. But, what are the long term consequences? As we have already pointed out, this strategy can become really dangerous in the long run.


“If lies or deceit are used in the communication process, there will be manipulation, which can be reciprocal.”
-Albert Jaquard-

What does emotional blackmail produce in our children?

Emotional blackmail with children is a form of manipulation that leaves them with no choice. They will obey us…probably. But, before long, this strategy will stop being effective and they will probably also use it against us if we are the ones who show them how to do it. As with all forms of blackmail, it is a strategy that hardly ever produces any kind of positive feelings.

Furthermore, this may create resentment, that they may not be able to explain, but which will grow over time. Children are usually able to identify when people are trying to manipulate them much earlier than we would have thought. And nobody likes to be manipulated, right? Because of this, they will often consider the people who are trying to blackmail them as a threat. They won’t want to be with them, as they don’t make them feel good.

Quite often, people use emotional blackmail with kids in order to get signs of affection. Ironically, though, if there really is love in that relationship, then this approach will actually diminish that love. In addition to this, and as we have said before, they will soon learn to use the blackmail in their favor. Their way of seeing it is that it is a perfectly valid strategy because their loved ones use it too. Sadly, if this continues, then it will be very difficult for them to be able to maintain relationships that aren’t superficial or symbolic.

“Love comes when the manipulation stops. It comes when you think more about the other person than about their reactions to you, and dare to reveal yourself fully. It comes when you dare to be vulnerable.”

-Joyce Brothers-

Why blackmail doesn’t work

Most of the time blackmail doesn’t work, because it uses threats that are not followed up on in the short nor in the long term. No parent is going to stop loving their child just because he doesn’t tidy his room, for example. Psychologists have proven (and tried to transmit it to parents, with varying degrees of success) that these types of threats don’t last very long and have a very sad outcome.

With this type of blackmail, the child is never going to learn the real reason that he should keep his room clean. He’ll never learn that by having a tidy room he’ll be able to find stuff in it. He’ll never learn just why it’s important to clean his teeth, even though he doesn’t feel like it sometimes (until, of course, it’s too late and he has to pay an urgent visit to the dentist). The most likely outcome is that, when the blackmail stops, or ceases to have any effect, then the good habits or behavior we wanted them to acquire will also disappear.

Blackmail doesn’t teach our children to be able to solve problems or to do things because it is best for them and is what they want. They “change” their child’s behavior just for that moment or purpose, but there isn’t any real change or lasting motivation. Also, when we use emotional blackmail, and don’t carry out the threat if the child doesn’t obey, then we’ll lose credibility.

“Education is about helping a child to make his aptitudes a reality”

-Erich Fromm-

Parents telling off child

What alternatives are there to emotional blackmail?

If we want our children to do something, especially when they are very young, the best thing is to help them or accompany them, instead of, for example, giving orders from the sofa. For older children, the best tool at our disposal is our example. If we want them to do what we want, then we should give them something positive to imitate.

Our children are not robots. Only robots or machines respond and do things the first time of asking. For this reason, we need to repeat things more than once to make children do things. We should also make sure that their delay is not pure laziness, or a conscious act to make us angry. Children work at a different speed and in most cases they are learning.

The importance of discussing things with the child

It’s also important to discuss things with them, offer them options and listen to what they have to say. When we want them to do something, we must first ask ourselves if it’s because of their needs that we’re asking them or because of ours. If it’s because of our needs, then we should offer alternatives, times and, above all, explanations of why we want them to act or not to act in a certain way. When it is something to do with them, their well-being and their future, then the most effective approach is to explain the benefits of doing those things.

When we stop using blackmail when bringing up our children, then it is more likely they will end up choosing certain ways of behaving by themselves. Ways that truly benefit them and those around them. If we let them show their intelligence, then they will have the opportunity to be intelligent. Maybe we’ll have to work a little more, discuss things, and be there for them a bit more. However, the up side of this is that they will grow up to be more autonomous, with a better self-esteem, and they’ll learn the value of effort and work. It’s surely worth it, isn’t it?

“Don’t try to keep your child from the difficulties of life, but rather teach them to overcome them.”

-Louis Pasteur-