The kind of expressions of approval that are not manipulative are the ones that bubble out of you without any forethought. Anytime you are wondering if what you were planning to say might be coercive approval, it probably is. Is what you are saying the kind of thing you would naturally say to an equal, a friend, or your boss, say? Or does the idea of saying this to your boss seem highly inappropriate?
When I go to other people’s houses, I try to abide by their wishes in respect of their property and so on. I try to make my visit add to their lives rather than detract from them. I try to be sensitive and (to the extent that I think they will want this) helpful in a non-intrusive way. We all want to do the right thing, including our children.
We all feel angry sometimes, but we should take great care not to act out the accompanying impulse to blame, shame, hurt or threaten the other person. We can admit to our child that we feel angry and try to make sure that the child knows that this is a fault in us and not in the child. It is vital not to make our child feel responsible for our anger. It is our own stuff, not caused by them, no matter how it seems to us in that moment.
Whenever parents try to stop being in charge of stuff, and stop doling out looks or latitude, life with the kids gets easier and more rewarding.
Many have suggested that my use of the word ‘coercion’ is non-standard and that I should find another word, but I think that is the quest for a euphemism. People don’t like using a harsh word for something they think is morally right. But if you prefer, use the word ‘manipulation’ instead—as long as it is clear that manipulating children is not taking them seriously either.