Question: I am concerned that my ex is coercing my 4 (she turned 4 today) into saying things that are untrue. can you help me or perhaps help me to find out the correct person to ask to see if the right persuading will make a child who loves her mommy more than you know into saying bad things about her because she loves her dad too? thanks for your help and I pray that you are able to guide me to the right answers
Answer: Dear Autumn:
Of course a 4 year old can be manipulated into saying something that isn’t true if and usually only if it is repeated to the child enough that they no longer no what is true. Mostly children do not make things up as adults often want to imply they do in cases of abuse.
However, children at this age are struggling to learn the difference between fantasy and reality and if a “story” is told to a child often enough they can become confused.
In the case of divorces there is a syndrome called Parental Alienation Syndrome in which one parent repeatedly and routinely bad mouths the absent parent and thereby creates a rift between the absent parent and the child. (Children should NEVER be privy to adult issues.)
However, there are parents who have abandoned their children or abused their children who have created a child’s alienation themselves, refuse to take responsibility for having done so, then blamed the custodial parent. PAS is something that does not apply to all cases.
I suggest you get her into see a play therapist who has plenty of experience with children. If she is being coerced into lying then she will be confused and deeply affected and needs professional support. A professional can guide you into what steps to take to help her and yourself.
M Kay Keller