If I could get parents to incorporate one thing into their communication with their kids it would be validation. Parents often want their kids to move on or don’t see the importance of what is making their child upset. You might say “It’s not that big of a deal” or “There’s no reason to be upset about that” but when kids feel invalidated, they will eventually shut down and find other sources for support. They may also begin to internalize the message that their feelings are not valid and not worth sharing. Here’s a bit more about what validation is, why it’s so important, and how to do it.
What is Validation?
Validation is confirming and expressing understanding—of feelings, experiences, thoughts, etc. It’s acknowledging that you hear and comprehend what someone is saying and experiencing. It’s not agreeing or condoning anything, just confirming you understand.
Why is Validation Important?
We all want to be heard and understood, kids especially. Children and teens often feel like nobody gets them and nobody is listening to them—a lot of the time they are correct. Adults have a tendency to brush past what kids experience and either don’t hear what they are saying or invalidate what they are expressing. When kids experience this, they become less likely to continue telling adults the things we want them to tell us because they didn’t get the reaction they wanted. When feelings are validated, they often become less intense. Validating feelings helps strengthen relationships and understanding and helps your child feel like you’re on his side. With kids and teens who are still working to learn and regulate their emotions, you are helping them with identifying emotions so they can better express them.
How to Validate:
Be an active listener. Be present and focused, look into their eyes, search for facial clues of feeling.
Offer verbal and non-verbal reassurance. Nod your head, respond with uh-huh or oh or other utterances.
Reflect the feelings you are noticing. “Seems like you’re really upset about this.” “You are angry he took your toy.” “You’re feeling left out because you weren’t invited.” “That was really hurtful.”
Offer support, not advice. Let them know you understand why they feel that way. Some of my favorite responses:
It makes sense that you feel like that.
I understand why you would think that.
I appreciate that you trusted me with this.
I know this is really hard for you.
It’s OK that you feel this way.
Ask how you can be supportive. Again, don’t jump into fixing the problem or telling your own story or telling them to cheer up and move on. Find out what they want or need from you.
How can I help you with this situation?
Is there anything I can do to help you?
Did you want some advice or you just needed to vent?
Can I offer you a hug?
Validating feelings is a powerful way to connect with your child and strengthen your bond. When you respond in a way that makes your child feel heard and important, they will continue coming to you with tough stuff they are dealing with.
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