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How to stop gaslighting and start hearing your child’s pain

This is why saying “it’s okay” really isn’t okay.

How to stop gaslighting and start hearing your child’s pain

One of my guiding goals in parenthood is to raise my children to in tune with their own emotions. That’s why I was so taken aback when a recent article pointed out a phrase I had said with good intentions is actually a subtle form of gaslighting—aka psychologically manipulating—my child.


The phrase in question? You’re okay.

This was so often my go-to form of comfort for boo-boos that the last time my toddler son was sick, he told himself “It’s okay. It’s okay.”

But, the truth is, it’s okay not to be okay. And, as parents, we need to validate our children when they really feel sad, hurt, upset or whatever other uncomfortable emotions are natural to the human experience.

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“All of us want to be heard, seen and understood, and this includes children,” says Atlanta-based child therapist Sara Anderson.

Even seemingly innocuous phrases such as “let’s move on” or “you’re going to get over this” send our children the message they are wrong to feel they way they do. In essence, this is a form of gaslighting, which is defined by the Oxford English Dictionary as, “Manipulating someone by psychological means into doubting their own sanity.”

In the most common sense of gaslighting, it is done maliciously in abusive relationships. Although my intentions couldn’t have been farther from malicious, Anderson says it can still have unintended consequences: Children may begin to “cover” or hide their emotions at the expense of important life skills, such as the ability to resolve conflicts or communicate appropriately.

Start by getting comfortable with uncomfortable feelings

Justin Lioi, LCSW, says some parents go so far as banning negative emotion words like “angry” in an attempt to help their children cheer up.

“Underneath this is the parent's discomfort with their child being upset,” Lioi tells Motherly. “Both because they don't want their child to have these really upsetting emotions and they are uncomfortable with the emotion itself—especially if they're the ones who are bringing up the emotion.”

Instead, Lioi says parents have to get comfortable with uncomfortable emotions. Of course, that’s hard enough in general, but especially when it’s our children who are hurting.

Just take heart in know this difficult thing on our part is hugely important for our children long after those boo-boos heal: Studies show kids who have the emotional intelligence to label and respond to hard feelings do better in school, have more positive relationships and are more empathetic.

The alternative to gaslighting is simple: just listen

Rather than rushing to tell children how they feel, Anderson says we should take a moment to listen or even anticipate their true feelings.

“For example, if a child falls and cries, the parent can say, ‘Wow, that really hurt you,’ or even, ‘Oh, that scared you,’” Anderson says. The key difference here is that you’re validating your child. She adds, “By expressing understanding, the parent is telling the child that it is okay to feel their own feelings and that the parent is there to help the child manage these big feelings and upsetting situations.”

This is especially helpful for little ones who don’t have the words to explain themselves. And, as Anderson says, the practice can be done in all types of situations—such as saying “you were unsure about meeting that person” when your child hides from a stranger.

“By reflecting these feelings to a child, a parent is building the child’s emotional literacy,” Anderson explains. “As she becomes more verbal, she’ll have this emotional language skill to begin to name her own feelings and will feel confident doing so.”

In the long run, this is much more valuable than distracting or dismissing negative feelings. As Marc Brackett, director of the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence, says, “Labeling your emotions is key. If you can name it, you can tame it.”

14 outdoor toys your kids will want to play with beyond summer

They transition seamlessly for indoor play.

With Labor day weekend in the rearview and back-to-school in full swing, most parents are fresh out of boxes to check on their "Fun Concierge" hit list. It's also the point of diminishing returns on investing in summer-only toys. So with that in mind, we've rounded up some of our favorite toys that are not only built to last but will easily make the transition from outdoor to indoor play. Even better, they're Montessori-friendly and largely open-ended so your kids can get a ton of use out of them.

From sunny backyard afternoons to rainy mornings stuck inside, these toys are sure to keep little ones engaged and entertained.

Meadow ring toss game

Plan Toys meadow ring toss game

Besides offering a fantastic opportunity to hone focus, coordination, determination and taking turns, lawn games are just plain fun. Set them up close together for the littles and spread them out when Mom and Dad get in on the action. With their low profile and rope rings, they're great for indoors as well.

$30

Balance board

Plan Toys balance board

Balance boards are a fabulous way to get the wiggles out. This one comes with a rope attachment, making it suitable for even the youngest wigglers. From practicing their balance and building core strength to working on skills that translate to skateboarding and snowboarding, it's a year-round physical activity that's easy to bring inside and use between Zoom classes, too!

$75

Detective set

Plan Toys detective setDetective Set

This set has everything your little detective needs to solve whatever mystery they might encounter: an eye glasses, walkie-talkie, camera, a red lens, a periscope and a bag. Neighborhood watch? Watch out.

$40

Wooden doll stroller

Janod wooden doll strollerWooden Doll Stroller

Take their charges on a stroll around the block with this classic doll stroller. With the same versatility they're used to in their own ride, this heirloom quality carriage allows their doll or stuffy to face them or face the world.

$120

Sand play set

Plan Toys sand set

Whether you're hitting the beach or the backyard sandbox, this adorable wooden sand set is ready for action. Each scoop has an embossed pattern that's perfect for sand stamping. They're also totally suitable for water play in the wild or the bathtub.

$30

Water play set

Plan Toys water play set

Filled with sand or water, this tabletop sized activity set keeps little ones busy, quiet and happy. (A mama's ideal trifecta 😉). It's big enough to satisfy their play needs but not so big it's going to flood your floors if you bring the fun inside on a rainy day.

$100

Mini golf set

Plan Toys mini golf set

Fore! This mini golf set is lawn and living room ready. Set up a backyard competition or incorporate into homeschooling brain breaks that shift focus and build concentration.

$40

Vintage scooter balance bike

Janod retro scooter balance bike

Pedals are so 2010. Balance bikes are the way to go for learning to ride a bike while skipping the training wheels stage altogether. This impossibly cool retro scooter-style is built to cruise the neighborhood or open indoor space as they're learning.

$121

Wooden rocking pegasus

plan toys wooden rocking pegasus

Your little will be ready to take flight on this fun pegasus. It gently rocks back and forth, but doesn't skimp on safety—its winged saddle, footrests and backrest ensure kids won't fall off whether they're rocking inside or outside.

$100

Croquet set

Plan Toys croquet set

The cutest croquet set we've ever seen! With adorable animal face wooden balls and a canvas bag for easy clean up, it's also crafted to stick around awhile. Round after round, it's great for teaching kiddos math and problem-solving skills as well.

$45

Wooden digital camera

fathers factory wooden digital camera

Kids get the chance to assemble the camera on their own then can adventure anywhere to capture the best moments. With two detachable magnetic lenses, four built-in filters and video recorder, your little photographer can tap into their creativity from summertime to the holidays.

$179

Wooden bulldozer toy

plan toys wooden bulldozer toy

Whether they're digging up sand in the backyad or picking up toys inside, kids can get as creative as they want picking up and moving things around. Even better? Its wooden structure means it's not an eye sore to look at wherever your digger drops it.

$100

Pull-along hippo

janod toys pull along hippo toy

There's just something so fun about a classic pull-along toy and we love that they seamlessly transition between indoor and outdoor play. Crafted from solid cherry and beechwood, it's tough enough to endure outdoor spaces your toddler takes it on.

$33

Baby forest fox ride-on

janod toys baby fox ride on

Toddlers will love zooming around on this fox ride-on, and it's a great transition toy into traditional balance bikes. If you take it for a driveway adventure, simply use a damp cloth to wipe down the wheels before bringing back inside.

$88

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