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Do You Gaslight Your Child?

First of all, what does Gaslight actually mean?


To undermine or manipulate someone into doubting their own feelings or sanity

When I consider this, I realise that YES, I have totally gaslit my children! Perhaps not intentionally and definitely not so they might doubt themselves, but I have undermined my child’s feelings and expression of those feelings.


Haven’t we all?


Consider these responses.


Child: That’s a scary room
Me: No, it’s not. Don’t be silly.
Child: I don’t like apples.
Me: Yes, you do! They’re yummy.
Child: I don’t like you.
Me: That's not true!

Sound familiar?


I listened to a great podcast with Dr Becky Kennedy. She is a clinical psychologist and mom of three – and was named the Millennial Parenting Whisperer by Time Magazine.


Dr Becky says that the first 3 years of life are remembered through our body. Feelings, emotions, triggers – our bodies absorb everything. Children learn what parts of them get smiling eyes and hugs. They also learn what parts of them get dark eyes, sent to their room and distanced. What parts get closeness and what parts get disconnection. A child soon learns what behaviour get the reaction that is safest and this behaviour stays with them into adulthood.


My biggest takeaway and what I want to share is the idea that as parents we have three main responsibilities.


To set boundaries – This answers the child’s question, Am I safe?
To show empathy – This answers the child’s question, Am I real?
To validate their existence – This also answers the question, Am I real?

Which takes us back to gaslighting our children and our tendency to feed back to our children the opposite of what they are expressing. Dr Becky insists that we take our child’s expression of their feelings seriously.


Using statements like:


I believe you
I can see that you are scared
I can see that you don’t like that

When a child’s feelings are consistently negated they learn to stuff those feelings. They believe that they can’t be understood and that their feelings aren’t valid.


A young child’s job is to feel and experience their entire range of emotions. This is because you can’t learn to regulate feelings you’re not allowed to have.


When a child throws a monumental tantrum or expresses their feelings in a disruptive way we need to understand that their feelings are just outpacing their ability to manage those feelings. Our job as parents is to increase the ability of our child to manage those feelings (for the rest of their lives). This starts with us acknowledging that their feelings are real for them – regardless of whether its logical or appropriate. It’s only AFTER this acknowledgement that we can reset or restate the boundaries that we want to maintain.


For more practical and enlightening parenting advice she has her a podcast which was one of Apple Podcasts Best Shows of 2021 - find it here .


Her new book Good Inside is out soon. Check it out here.


The basic premise is that all children are “good inside”. There aren’t children that are good and children that are bad – they are ALL good inside.


This way of thinking helps us to reframe our own perspective. We remind ourselves that our good child is having a hard day. We remind ourselves that our child who is good inside is having trouble with understanding the rules.



Let's be the best parents we can be!












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