How to Avoid Gaslighting Children

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Gaslighting is a form of emotional manipulation and abuse that can have a negative impact on children. It causes a child to question their own feelings, beliefs, and self-esteem. [1] Understand the importance of avoiding behaviors that could deny, withhold, or trivialize a child’s thoughts or feelings. Evaluate the ways that you respond to what your child says and does. Focus on providing a more nurturing environment for them. Parenting can be stressful and overwhelming, so make sure to learn healthy ways to cope.


EditReacting without Judgment

  1. Avoid trivializing or denying your child’s feelings or needs. Let’s say that your child comes to you concerned about something. Think about how you react. Do you ignore, deny, or trivialize what they say as incorrect or unimportant?[2]
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    • For example, let’s say that your child asks about some supplies needed for school, and that they talked with you about it yesterday. They say that you were going to get them today. You react by saying, “I don’t know what you’re talking about.” This will make your child question what happened in the conversation before, and make them feel confused.
    • Another example might be if your child feels scared about something, maybe it seems irrational to you, and you say, “You’re going to get scared over a little thing like that?” This may make your child feel more anxious and uneasy, rather than comforted.
    • Understand that what you say, and how you react, will have great impact on a child’s self-esteem and behavior.
  2. Steer clear of viewing your child as overly sensitive or weak. Maybe you think it’s important that your child learn to be tough rather than sensitive. Maybe you feel like your family was hard on you, and that’s just the way it is. But children need comfort as much as they need discipline.[3]
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    • Avoid using words like, “Suck it up” or “Stop being so sensitive.” This denies a child’s feelings, and makes them feel unsupported.
    • While you may believe in tough love, it’s important to balance out discipline with love and kindness. Simply providing for child’s basic needs like food and shelter isn’t enough. Avoid being emotionally neglectful of your child’s feelings.
    • By providing emotional support and stability in your child’s life, they are more likely to trust you and others. They are more likely to act with kindness and respect for others.
  3. Don’t expect your child to act like an adult. Let’s say you have plans to visit relatives for the holidays, and you’re planning to take your children for the visit. There may be different expectations among you and your family about how children should behave. Remember that kids are not at the same developmental stage as adults. Make sure to allow children to be children.[4]
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    • Recognize that children get more tired, irritable, and bored than adults do. They may be less apt to sit quietly or handle long stretches of time in a car.
    • When they are upset, focus on addressing their most common concerns–feeling hungry, being angry, feeling lonely, or being tired. Avoid just saying, “Calm down and stop acting this way.” Pay attention to the possible reasons behind their behavior.
  4. Respond with understanding rather than anger. Be patient with your child as much as possible. While you may get upset from time to time with your child, be self-aware of how often this happens and understand under what circumstances.
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    • When you’re upset and unable to control your anger, consider stepping away for a minute and breathing deeply. This can help to calm down your mind before you react.
    • Be willing to say sorry. Children aren’t perfect, and neither are parents. And that’s okay. If you responded in an angry way, apologize and make sure your child understands that anger is not a solution to a problem.
  5. Label and honor their feelings, even if you don’t do what they want. It helps to acknowledge, label, and talk about what your child is experiencing. You can validate their feelings even while you set the rules.
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    • For example, “I know you’re upset about leaving the park. It’s no fun to go when you want to stay and play. Because it’s getting late, we need to go home so we have time to eat supper. Do you want sweet potato fries or corn with our chicken?”
    • Or, “I know you want to keep playing video games. It’s fun to play games. Too much screen time is bad for you, and you hit your two-hour limit, so it’s time to be done. If you don’t know what to do, I can give you a few ideas, or you could fold laundry with me.”
  6. Be empathetic if you don’t understand. Sometimes, your child may be upset and you have no idea why. Instead of labeling your child as difficult or fussy, do your best to understand why they are so upset in the first place. Offer compassion and reassurance, even if you have no idea what the problem is.
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    • Ask questions. “You’re frowning and kicking the dirt. Is something wrong?” “I see you pouting back there. How come?”
    • Young children and children with special needs may especially struggle to communicate problems, or be upset by things that wouldn’t bother you. Be patient and do your best to understand.

EditProviding a Nurturing Environment

  1. Avoid giving off emotional mixed messages. Children need consistency and stability. Avoid making them feel smothered with love one minute, and then the worst children in the world the next. It can make a child question who they are, and start to believe that there is something fundamentally wrong with them.[5]
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    • Take note of your emotions. Do you feel out of control with your emotions sometimes? Make sure to get help for yourself if it seems like your most common responses are filled with negativity or anger.
    • Children won’t likely understand what’s wrong or bothering you, particularly if they are under 12 years old. They are not yet equipped emotionally to handle emotional mixed messages.
  2. Help to boost your child’s self-esteem. If you’re feeling low or down on yourself, it can be hard to help encourage others and boost their confidence. But for a child, they rely on parental guidance to feel more confident in who they are. Find time each day to make your child feel special.
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    • Focus on saying one good and positive thing to your child each day that helps to boost their self-esteem.
    • Give a warm hug to your child. Make them feel protected. A child is more likely to feel confident if they feel secure and protected by you.
  3. Be a role model for your child. Your child looks up to you, and is likely to learn their behaviors through you and other adults in their lives. Teach them how to respect others by being a role model yourself.
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    • Think about how you wished you were treated. Demonstrate in your actions as often as you can. If your child is present, be particularly aware that they may watching your actions. For example, smile and say hello to people you encounter at the store or in public. Show your positive and kind self.
    • Teach them it’s okay to be wrong. Children have less maturity and understanding, and may take things literally. Avoid saying things like, “I can believe you spilled your cup again. It’s like you never learn anything.” This may instill in the child a belief that they genuinely have an inability to learn.
    • Make them feel like they can trust you with their concerns. A role model makes a child feel welcome rather than anxious. For example, be engaged in conversation with them when they’re talking. Show that you’re interested and actively listening. By avoiding distractions and maintaining focus, you can build their trust.
  4. Take time to listen closely to them. Show interest in what your child likes, and pay close attention to what they have to say (even if they’re saying something you don’t like). This shows the child that you take their voice and opinions seriously, even when you disagree with them.
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  5. Avoid feeling resentment or frustration with your child’s behavior. While this may be tough, it’s important to be patient as much as you can. Children look to you for comfort, and may feel disillusioned if you react with resentment or anger.[6]
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    • A parent-child relationship is uneven rather than equal. A child depends on you to survive, to feel safe, and to feel loved. If you say or do things to manipulate the relationship in your favor, a child is very vulnerable to this form of control.
    • For example, let’s say that your child has anxiety about going to an event with you. You feel like you’ll be late because of your child’s heightened anxiety. Avoid saying things like, “I don’t know why you’re so anxious. I would be happy to go. You’re going to make us late, so please hurry up.”
    • Instead, label and address their feelings. For example “Why is this upsetting to you?” or “I know you’re anxious about this. I feel anxious sometimes too. What can we do to make this easier for you?”
    • Make sure to provide some support or reassurance, even if you’re initially impatient.
  6. Provide reassurance rather than self-doubt to your child. If your child constantly feels wrong or not good enough, they are likely to have lower self-esteem and have more difficulty with relationships with others. Help to build their social skills by providing love, support, and reassurance.[7]
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    • Offer words of encouragement and praise. Focus on making the child feel good about what they are doing, rather than only focusing on what they do wrong. Consider saying things like, “I know it’s been a tough day, but I believe in you” or “I know you can do it. I’ve done such a great job before.”
    • When you child feels confused or begins to doubt something that you said, offer an apology. Instead of telling them that they’re wrong or misheard you, say things like, “I’m sorry for the confusion” or “I think we just misheard each other. It’s okay.”

EditFinding Healthy Ways to Reduce Stress

  1. Be self-aware of your unmet needs. Being a parent isn’t easy. Sometimes you may feel like you’re overwhelmed and frustrated. One important way to avoid being stressed over your children is to take care of your own emotional needs.
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    • Do you feel loved and appreciated, or hurt, neglected, and disrespected? If you’re feeling unhappy with yourself and your needs, then you may have a harder time providing guidance to your children.
    • Understand how your current work, family, and emotional situation is impacting your health and well-being. Think about if you have felt this way for a long time, or just more recently.
    • By being in touch with yourself, you’re less likely to “gaslight” your children.
  2. Seek help from friends, family, and your community. Avoid parental burnout. Connect with friends, family, babysitters, or other community supports when you need some time to yourself or away from your kids.[8]
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    • When you have time to yourself, use it to relax rather than just to deal with other problems. Set aside time to exercise, relax, spend time with friends, or whatever helps you feel refreshed.
    • Consider having regular dates with your partner or spouse, away from your children.
    • Block off four hours of time each week to get away from the responsibilities of being a parent. Keep these times consistent each week so that you’re less apt to change your plans frequently.
  3. Find professional support. Don’t feel alone in parenting or dealing with children who can be difficult at times. Reach out to professionals at school and through counseling centers. They may have resources and strategies that make it easier for you.[9]
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    • Consider meeting with your child’s school counselor about resources to help with parenting. Talk openly about any concerns that you may have regarding your child and what stressors you’re facing.
    • Identify counselors that focus on families and children. There may low-cost therapy options in your area to help you and your child communicate more effectively with each other. Many counseling centers take insurance or offer sliding scale fees.
  4. Focus on the good parts of your relationship with the child. You’ll mess up sometimes, and that’s normal. One tiny parenting mistake isn’t going to throw your child into emotional turmoil for the rest of their lives. Keep learning from your mistakes, acknowledging your imperfections, and being the best you can be.
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  • Be willing to ask for help when parenting gets tough. It’s a sign of strength. If you continue to feel overwhelmed about how to handle a situation with your child, find support by contacting the National Parent Helpline: 1-855-427-2736 or


  • If you are facing emotional abuse, consider contacting the National Domestic Violence Hotline for help and resources: 1-800-799-7233 or

EditRelated wikiHows

  • Validate Someone’s Feelings
  • Ensure a Child Feels Loved
  • Avoid Being a Toxic Parent
  • Help Your Toddler Express Their Feelings
  • Be a Good Parent
  • Be Respectful of Your Family
  • Raise Body Positive Kids

EditSources and Citations

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