What if I told you there is a super simple tool you can use that would help your child be able to appropriately express and manage her feelings? If you knew this simple technique would boost your child’s self esteem, reduce defiance, build self-reliance, improve confidence, and increase her sense of connectedness you’d want to do this thing, right? What is this magic? Its validation. The act of consistent feelings validation is one of the very best gifts you could give your child.
What is Feelings Validation
Validating feelings means sending your child the message that her feelings are real, make sense in the situation, are allowed, and are accepted. When emotions are running high we grown ups sometimes forget to do this.
“Don’t cry, you have other friends.”
“You don’t hate your brother, you love him.”
“Stop acting that way, you know better.”
It’s hard for us to see our children in pain. In our well meaning efforts to help our child we sometimes accidentally try to fix or deny or squash their feelings. If kids aren’t allowed to feel what they feel they may grow up to be adults that struggle to feel and express feelings. Validating your child’s feelings means to let her express her feelings without being criticized, abandoned, or made fun of.
Feelings Validation is Not
This might be the part where you’re wondering if validation means “letting her get away with something”, like just letting it slide that she slammed her door or was swearing. Feelings validation is about the feelings, not the behaviors. It’s important to help your child understand that the feeling is allowed and the behavior may not be. Validation is never about condoning poor behavior or giving in to defiance.
How to Validate Feelings
So how do you do this magic trick that makes your child feel loved while simultaneously eliminating defiant behaviors?
- Make it clear to your child that you intend to listen to what they have to say
Put down your phone. Stop cooking dinner for a moment. Face your child. Wait patiently while they say what they have to say. Tell them “thank you” when they share with you.
- Acknowledge that the things they have going on in their life are real and you take them seriously
We have the years of experience and the accompanying knowledge that comes with adulthood. Your child does not. The challenges they are facing, making a new friend, getting a tough assignment done, or going through a break up are big and real and we have to treat them as such. “I can tell this is serious”. “I see that this is important to you”.
- Reflect back to them the feelings they are giving you
This one is tricky. It’s also the moment of truth. Let’s say your child has just shouted at you “You never let me do anything!”. She is angry and hurt. You are annoyed and exhausted. You can try to fix it “fine, I’ll let you”, deny it “I let you do all kinds of things”, or squash it “that’s enough, go to your room”. It’s easy to get lost here. Your own feelings are up and you don’t want to encourage this rude behavior. Please trust me though. Try reflecting back the feeling they are giving you (keep in mind, the feeling is often buried in anger, sarcasm, or tears; you may have to really search for it).
If you are unsure what to do try this formula: using a calm and sincere voice say “You seem upset”. Your calmness will disrupt the pattern and make a space for your child to open up. She may not be quite ready yet and keep shouting. You can keep using your calm voice and reflecting back what she is giving you. “You feel disappointed that I told you no”. Once she is feeling heard (which also means she can now hear you) you can add in the rules and boundaries “I can tell you are really upset about this and I cannot allow you to shout at me”.
Stick to it. When your child feels validated she will not have to fight so hard to make herself be understood. She will be able to step out of the fight and into the connection that comes when she feels safe and heard.