Hello brave parents and caregivers!
This weekend I traveled to my niece’s birthday party; yes, I was trapped in a car, then in a hotel room, for hours with my family. You know you’ve been there. The tension of loving your child so much you’d die for her, yet seriously needing some distance NOW. Like all kids her age, my daughter can span the emotional continuum in a matter of seconds. This weekend, I was up front and center for this, and I had to remind myself several times to stay calm. It was not always easy! After all, there are only so many times a person can remain calm and validating when being called upon in the middle of the night to find a sock, am I right?
Why is Parental Validation So Important?
Parent Emotion Regulation
Validating your children’s feelings starts with healthy parent emotion regulation skills. Parents who are easily overwhelmed by their child’s feelings may avoid interacting with him or even discourage him from expressing emotions; highly reactive parents may respond to a child’s emotional expression with their own emotionality, such as anger or frustration. These responses not only create an invalidating environment in which a child believes that his feelings are unacceptable or intolerable, they limit opportunities for him to learn how to deal with his emotions. In fact, research shows that adolescents who feel invalidated by their parents are more likely to struggle with emotion dysregulation themselves. 1 So, parents and caregivers, please seek help if you struggle with emotion dysregulation. It will not only help you, it may be essential for your child’s mental health.
Validate Your Child’s Feelings in 3 Steps
Validation of emotions involves recognizing your child’s feelings and communicating that they matter. Simple, right? Not so much, particularly if you’re sleep-deprived and the emotion flag flies countless times per day. Friends, just take a deep breath and do your best.
The way I see it, there are 3 steps to validating your child’s emotions. Let’s take the rogue sock for example:
1. Nonjudgmentally acknowledge the situation in a calm, neutral tone: “It looks like you’re upset, what’s going on?”
2. Listen; create a supportive space to explain her perspective on what happened: “Moooom! I lost my sock, wearing one sock feels weird. I still can’t find it! This room is so dark… I don’t want to look for it!”
3. Reflect back what you heard: “OK, you’re upset that you can’t find your sock. I totally agree that it feels weird to wear one sock. And I understand that you may be scared to move around a strange room to look for it, that makes sense. I can see why you’re upset.”
The “Thinking Brain”
Validation Dos and Don’ts
To convey a validating presence, remain calm, accepting, and nonjudgmental. Use open-ended questions to gain your child’s perspective on the situation. Resist the urge to “fix” the situation or change your child’s emotions. Remember that it’s totally okay to cry, be sad, angry, frustrated, joyful, etc. Try not to lecture or advise your child.
Examples of validating statements include:
- “That makes sense”
- “It must be hard to feel sad”
- “Tell me about what happened, I’m here to listen”
- “I hear what you’re saying”
- “It’s okay to feel angry”
Examples of invalidating statements include:
- “Don’t cry”
- “It’s okay”
- “It could be worse”
- “You’re overreacting”
- “You shouldn’t be so angry”
- “Just let it go”
- “That’s no big deal”
When we validate our kids, we communicate that they can trust us and we give them the confidence and skills needed to build healthy relationships. Awesome, right?
Brave parents and caregivers, I’m here to say that I validate you! Let’s face it, in reality, we’re not always going to get it right. This journey is challenging. In my parenting life, I try to get it right more times than not and hope for the best. It’s okay if you feel frustrated. It makes sense that you may feel burnt out. I hear you. Let’s journey through this together.
Until next time,
- Buckholdt KE, Parra GR, Jobe-Shields L. 2014. J Child Fam Stud.23: 324-332.