Stop Gaslighting Your Kids
It’s no surprise that “gaslighting” was Merriam-Webster’s 2022 word of the year. In everything from politics to toxic celebrity news to our own relationships, the act of gaslighting is found in abundance. And sometimes—often unintentionally—even parents can be known to gaslight their children. If you’ve ever told your crying baby that he’s okay (even though he really isn’t), you may be to blame too.
Psychiatrist and parenting coach Jess Bichkofsky helps us learn to recognize and, most importantly, stop these harmful parenting practices.
What is “real” gaslighting?
In case you’ve been spared or haven’t noticed it yet, when someone gaslights you , they intentionally try to mislead and manipulate you into making you doubt yourself. In a fight with a gaslighter, they might say, “I never said that!” when you’re almost sure they did. They can turn the argument around and make it about you and your character, which can be confusing and make you feel bad. That is, by design. If you tell them that they hurt your feelings, they may say, “I’m sorry you feel this way” or “You’re too sensitive.”
This tactic usually goes on for a long time, sometimes years, and the gaslighter is often dependent on the gaslighter. A gaslit person often doubts the reliability of his own memory, feelings, and sometimes sanity. The reason a person resorts to gaslighting is to control the situation for their own benefit. While Bitchkofsky says that “some parents want total control and don’t want to let their little people be individuals,” most parents aren’t “real” gaslighters when it comes to their kids because most of us don’t manipulate them consciously and selfishly. . However, even if we do it by accident, it can have detrimental consequences.
How we gaslight our children
As parents, we must exercise some control to make sure everyone survives. In the process, we may occasionally lie for good. It’s not the end of the world and it’s not violence. However, there are some situations and answers to consider. Bitchkofsky gives the following examples:
- The child falls into the street and enters in tears and upset; the parent says, “Oh, you’re fine. Don’t be such a child!”
- The child is moping because the neighbor cannot play with him; The parent says, “It’s okay. You are too sensitive!
- The child complains that he does not want to eat salad because he does not like it; the parent says, “Yes, you know. It’s good for you!”
- The child struggles with math; the parent says, “You’re just lazy.”
Maybe you don’t really call your kids “lazy” but we’ve all had bad days and our kids have often driven us to the point where we’ve said things we’re not proud of.
“If you think about gaslighting on a continuum, even the best parents are likely to show up there, usually when they’re most stressed,” says Bichkofsky. “Feeling tired and overwhelmed can lead to short tempers, which can lead to less-than-ideal responses to certain situations.”
Why Parents Should Stop Gaslighting Their Kids
Even small cancellations can have a big impact over time. “Gaslighting is a really negative thing, and the control that parents exercise in this context can do a lot of psychological damage to the developing brain,” says Bichkofsky. “These answers make children question their own sense of reality: their feelings, experiences, abilities, and even memories. These statements tell children that their feelings have no power, that they are not good enough, that what they say, do, feel, think is not true. And that can be confusing.”
In the worst case scenario, “children can grow up to be vulnerable adults with low self-esteem,” which is also “ideal preparation for the development of serious mental health problems—most often depression or anxiety. It destroys any resilience that this child may have had, and now even little things can throw him off this spiral of mental illness.”
Even if gaslighting does not cause mental health problems, it can have long-term negative effects. Children exposed to gaslite as children may struggle to build healthy relationships or succeed in their future careers because they have developed a poor sense of their own worth or skills. When we tell kids how they feel, instead of letting them figure it out on their own, we’re setting them up for failure, says Bitchkofsky.
How to stop
Luckily, gaslighting is easy to spot and change. “With just a few tweaks, what might be considered gaslighting can be turned into a perfectly appropriate response,” says Bichkofsky. You can start with observation and confirmation .
“Kids want to know that you understand where they are coming from,” says Bichkofsky. “And often, once they feel heard, their behavior or situation improves; instead of telling your child not to be a child, about his trouble or that he’s okay, just acknowledge, “Oh, you fell! It looks like it hurts. What do you think? Do you need a patch? You don’t have to accept that it was the worst injury or exaggerate your reaction. But you don’t want to tell them that they don’t feel their feelings. It’s unfair and wrong.” So instead of assessing the situation or forming a judgment for them, look at it first from the outside, and then from their point of view.