The term “gaslighting” refers to when a person manipulates a victim into doubting their perception or understanding of reality.
The term originated in 1938 from a play with the same name where a woman’s husband manipulates her by trying to convince her and others that she is crazy; it later became a film with the same title.
It has since become a psychological and colloquial term used to apply to people who use similar tactics to delegitimize the victim’s belief and perception of a person or situation.
Gaslighting is a horrible manipulation to do to a person and can cause detrimental effects to their psyche and comprehension.
Unintentionally, and without knowing it, many parents apply similar techniques to their children.
These techniques may seem harmless, and you might think you’re doing it for your or your child’s own good, but it can have a greater negative impact on your child than you initially thought.
Being aware of these techniques will help you identify when you are accidentally using them, and help you to change your method so that you aren’t using gaslighting manipulation.
Here are 4 gaslighting techniques that we use on our children without knowing:
1. Telling lies.
While this is obviously something we don’t want to do to others, we tend to forget that when it comes to children.
We lie to children to soften the blow of something painful, or because we don’t think they will understand.
Lying to a child may seem like a small mercy, or like you are protecting them, but if you are actually hurting their perception of reality.
Instead of telling them that their bunny went to live on a farm, tell them the truth—but be gentle.
The truth can be adjusted to be age appropriate, and still be the truth.
Being honest doesn’t mean that we have to destroy their imagination, though.
They can still believe in Santa Claus and the tooth fairy, but when they start asking questions, they are old enough to hear the answers (or an abridged version.)
2. Using what they love against them.
Parenting is hard. Children push boundaries and that is all part of learning and growing up.
A good parent enforces boundaries and rules so that the child can learn and grow to be a respectful adult, but how we enforce those rules and boundaries can be a form of gaslighting.
Using their favorite toys or activities against them is gaslighting.
Taking away their blanket or their toy when they did something wrong is gaslighting: “you can have the bear back after you clean your room.”
Holding an activity hostage until they do something is gaslighting: “you can’t play your game until you do the dishes.”
Instead of taking something away that they love, try not to apply any connotation to the object or activity at all.
Try: “you can play your game after you’ve done the dishes, if you don’t do the dishes you will have to take out the trash for the rest of the week.”
You’re not using what they love against them to manipulate them into doing what you want, instead you are giving them an option: one chore tonight, or a chore every night for the rest of the week.
This teaches them that what they love isn’t a threat, and caring about something shouldn’t be used against them. It will also teach them critical thinking skills to be able to process through choices and the consequences.
3. Devaluing their emotions.
Children are very emotional.
Everything they experience is a first and they look to you to know how to deal with it.
As parents, you have to take care not to blow every scrape and fall out of proportion, nor can you cave in to every crying tantrum or emotional blow-up.
That said, there is a way to still value their emotions without coddling them and still giving them room to grown and learn.
It may seem small, but telling them that they are overreacting to an injury, or that tears are a sign of weakness is actually psychologically damaging.
It teaches them not to trust their perception of pain or their natural inclination to express it.
Instead, validate their expression and experience.
Tell them you know the scratch hurts, but it will go away and once it’s cleaned it won’t sting any more.
Tell them that crying is okay, give them a moment, and then tell them that it is time to move on.
They can’t spend the whole day crying, but it’s okay that they felt upset and expressed it with tears.
Validate their emotions and perceptions, but still educate them on good coping techniques and how to deal with what they are feeling.
Don’t minimize it or ignore it.
That doesn’t teach them anything but how to repress what they feel.
4. Forcing them to agree with us.
We can’t force an adult to share our same opinions or perspectives, so why should we force a child?
If they are questioning things, don’t just tell them your opinion and force them to believe it as fact.
Use it as a teachable moment to learn more about what they are asking so that they can form their own opinions and conclusions.
Forcing them to agree with you for the sake of agreeing with you limits their ability to make educated decisions and devalues their unique perspective and identity.
When they start asking questions or making their own choices, they are forming a perspective and it is best that they are allowed to safely explore that with your guidance, but not your pressure.
This can be over things as big as religion or politics, or as small as their favorite sports team or clothing.
It is important to note that, as a parent, you can’t let them run rampant, but you can offer information, options, and guidance so that they can learn more and make wise, safe choices that fit with their individuality and perspective.
Parenting is a difficult task,
and it seems like trying to navigate a minefield at times.
We don’t mean to negatively impact our children, and if we do it is often unintentional and without our knowledge.
Being aware of these 4 techniques of gaslighting will help you to nurture your child’s unique perspective and individuality, while still caring for them and helping them grow into a respectful and healthy adult.