Please Tell Me It’s a Phase… My 3-Year-Old Son Is a Gaslighter



We are living through extraordinary times, in so many ways. The rapid news cycle, filled with unprecedented general craziness on a daily basis, has been fascinating, horrifying, and totally discombobulating. It’s hard to know what’s really going on, what we should really worry about, or who we should really trust. I am a bit of a news and politics junkie, and all the gaslighting out there has been nothing short of maddening. 

For those unfamiliar with the term, “gaslighting” is the practice of manipulating people by psychological means into questioning reality (as a well-known example, think “It’s just locker talk”).  So many politicians, media personalities, and authority figures engage in the practice of gaslighting these days – whether consciously or not – that I often feel disoriented and a bit nuts after paying too much attention to current events.

There’s only so much that any of us, as individuals, can do to solve anything we perceive as problematic in society.  But as parents, we can at least try to educate our children and bring them up as responsible and respectful world citizens who will (hopefully) be a force for good and truth in this world.

The problem for me is… my three-year-old is kind of making me feel like a huge failure to society. 

I adore him… I’m proud of him… but I am not exaggerating when I say that my preschooler is a master gaslighter. Sure, it’s at a basic level at this point, but his newest favorite past time is to say the opposite of what he knows is true, just (I suspect) to bug everyone around him. (This has been mixed into his well-established repertoire of incessantly poking and prodding his sister and generally violating everyone’s personal space on a constant basis. Hello, consent!!!)  It’s gotten to the point where I routinely question reality and have to reevaluate whether I should even be having certain discussions.

For instance, we had several annoying and pointless engagements in the last few weeks. He tried to convince me that left was right, and right was left (I double checked by making an “L” with my left thumb and index; I was correct). He argued with me about the names of the roads on which we were driving, insisting that I was wrong and he was right about where we were (hello you’re THREE why are you trying to tell me, an adult who drives and reads road signs, where we are??? And why are you so confident about your position?). He told me that his teacher should have given him a prize because he wasn’t listening, since listening was bad and not listening was good (oh yeah, then why did your teacher tell me that you didn’t get a prize because you defied her by scooping mud out of a potted plant during playtime?  Gotcha.). 

I know.  Why even engage?  Maybe because he’s gaslighting me 80% of the day these days, and if I want to talk to my son I have to deal with this craziness!  Maybe so that this gaslighting can get nipped in the bud, before he’s figuring out more subtle and disturbing ways to make people question their own sanity.  Maybe because while I think he’s just kidding around, I also am not totally positive that he doesn’t just need me to explain how things really are. Maybe I just need to hear him give up the game and finally concede the point, in order to know he understands the truth/Mom is right.

Part of me says this is just a thing that little kids do. Right? I hope so, anyway. Please tell me it’s just a phase. (His sister didn’t do this.) I’m trying – really trying – not to read too much into things at this point.   Oh God, what if all his gaslighting has been a long con to make me question the very reality of my value as a mother and a contributing member of society?!?  No, he’s smart but not that smart… right?  This is just a thing kids do. It’s just a phase. It’ll be over soon…  

Still, do you have any words of advice for a mom in the throes of an existential crisis?  (I’m laughing on the inside, but would still love to hear how any other parents have dealt with this issue!)

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Lorrie lives in Cupertino with her husband, two small children, crazy dog, and obese cat. Originally from the Chicago area, Lorrie headed west in 2010, and hasn’t looked back. She loves exploring the Bay Area, and finds that even after six years, there is always something new to discover. Lorrie is a licensed and practicing attorney in both Illinois and California. She is proud to represent employees in all manner of work-related disputes, and partners closely as Of Counsel with Caffarelli & Assoc. Ltd., a Chicago-based firm. When she is not working or chasing her kids around, Lorrie likes to tinker with home improvement projects, walk around on sidewalks and trails, zone out on the internet, and “Netflix and chill.” She also likes to run, and aspires to one day make it to a yoga class.


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