Unfortunately, many parents use emotional blackmail while raising their kids. They use fear, guilt, intimidation, threats, and withholding of patience and affection to get their children to do what they want. Furthermore, many parents are unaware of the harm this does to children and how it will affect their future relationships with their children.


Identifying When Parents Use Emotional Blackmail

Usually, there is a pattern when parents use emotional blackmail against their children. First, they demand something from their child. The demand can be subtle, such as “Don’t you think you shouldn’t hang out with that person? They seem like a bad influence.”, or it might be self-evident, as in “You are not allowed to spend time with so and so anymore.”


Should the child not respond to the demand, the parent might resort to pressure. Pressure can be saying things like, “I only want you to have a good future” or “If you really loved me, you’d do it.” Parents try to pressure their kids to use age-appropriate language so that the demand is relevant to where the child is in their developmental stage.


Finally, the parent might threaten their child if the demand is still not met. Direct threats can include “If you go out with so-and-so tonight, you won’t have access to the TV when you get back.” Indirect threats may seem innocuous to outsiders, but the child understands them very well. For example, a parent might say, “If you don’t stay here with me tonight, maybe one of your siblings will.” Threats can also be positive, such as, “If you stay home tonight, we can order pizza.”


What Happens When Parents Emotionally Blackmail?

Often, parents resort to blackmail to get a child to obey without protest. This tactic reduces the child’s decision-making capacity. Over time, the child becomes codependent or rebellious. The child might believe that love is conditional or that compliance (the path of least resistance) is their best option. They might also think that if they don’t do as you say all the time, you might become emotionally detached from them.


What Can We Do Instead?

There is absolutely nothing wrong with creating boundaries with your child. You are the parent, and your job is to keep them safe. However, it is essential to emphasize that your love and affection are not dependent on your child’s compliance. Your child can express themselves (without being disrespectful), but this does not mean that you love them less when they disagree. Try the following steps:

  1. Keep calm, do not jump right to rage when they disobey
  2. Ask your child open-ended questions to determine why they disagree
  3. Identify what triggers you to resort to emotional blackmail
  4. Practice more effective communication methods


Help is Out There

If you find that you and your child are constantly at odds, there is help. The unfortunate truth is that many of us are trauma survivors, and we consciously or unconsciously project these traumas onto our others. You might feel terrified that your child might experience something you did, making you overprotective of them. They react by resisting your authority. Participating in strategic family therapy together might help you work through some of these issues and establish goals for how you want to communicate.



Unfortunately, many parents resort to emotional blackmail to get their children to obey their demands. This communication strategy is manipulative and harms kids in the long run. Children whose parents frequently emotionally blackmail them often become either co-dependent or rebellious. A lot of the time, the reason we use blackmail is due to the trauma we are projecting onto others. Work on how you communicate with your child, and strive not to use emotional blackmail. Seek out help if you need it. A licensed therapist can teach you and your child how to communicate better to resolve conflict.

Family Strategies Counseling & Mediation is a therapy office serving the Chicagoland Area. We offer couples counseling and mental health services. Our therapists are skilled at working with those struggling to process traumatic events. Call our office at (708) 798-5433 or email us at info@Family-Strategy.com for appointment details.


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