One of the biggest parenting “simple swaps” you can make is to replace emotional dismissal with validation. As a strategy, it can help you quickly resolve conflict and lessen emotional outbursts. As a core principle, it protects your child’s psychological health.
…when we tell a child that he doesn’t feel what he is feeling, we strip him of his natural protection. Not only that. We confuse him, disorient him, desensitize him. – Liberated Parents, Liberated Children
That’s right, validation is critical. Not just for children, but for all human beings. Consider yourself in this regard. Do you enjoy spilling your emotions to someone only to have them downplay your experiences and question how you’re feeling? Of course not. So give your child the same respect and empathy.
Agree? Nice. Let’s move on.
So when most parents make this simple swap, it comes off as quite amateur. It can be uncomfortable at first and it takes practice to master. When it comes to validation, amateur validation seems empty and doesn’t quite do the trick.
Don’t get me wrong, making any change in this direction is a great thing. All I’m saying is that you can easily do better.
Let’s go over an example that came up in the Reboot Your Kids support group:
I need some insight… We are new to authentic parenting! Our oldest daughter is 4.5. She goes to her biological father’s house once a week in the afternoons and every other weekend. When we pick her up from him she always throws a huge tantrum. Kicking, screaming, the whole 9 yards. How should we handle the situation? She has also thrown this fit in other situations when she doesn’t get her way but it is less often. Any advice is appreciated.
If we look at this situation from outside the “inner circle” of the parents view, it’s clear that the daughter’s strong emotions are 100% legitimate. She doesn’t get to see her father often and she has big feelings about that. There are no solutions to this challenging situation. Validation is all we can (and must) offer.
But amateur validation probably won’t do the trick here. If the child doesn’t feel deeply connected with and validated to the core, there won’t be much relief.
Being validated by someone who is experienced and deeply empathetic leads to feeling connected, understood, and valued. Being validated by someone who is inexperienced feels disconnected—like a robot is talking to you. Or someone who doesn’t really care.
Amateur validation: “That’s really hard.”
Yeah, you’re damn right it’s hard. That’s all you have to offer? I’m bleeding out of my heart over here and that’s what you’re going to muster? That’s the extent of your effort?
That’s what the person who desperately needs validation is feeling.
“You feel sad about having to leave your dads?”
“Yeah that’s very hard. You don’t get to see him often.”
“What’s your favorite part of seeing him?”
“You probably wish you could see him more often?”
“Yeah, I understand. That’s really tough.”
“Do you want to write him a letter we can send him? I can help you.”
“It’s hard having parents who are not together/it’s hard having to go back and forth between my house and dads, isn’t it?”
That’s some serious validation. For the person who is hurting, this level of validation shows true connection and empathy. They can feel that you’re working hard to put yourself in their shoes and understand what they’re going through.
And in this type of situation, the last two lines are the icing on the cake. They acknowledge that mom has a hand in this challenge we’re facing here and by saying these lines she’s taking responsibility. That’s crazy powerful, especially to a child (it’s expected when it’s another adult, by the way).
Asking to help write a letter says, “Hey, I may not be on the same page with your dad, but I’m setting that aside because I know it’s important to you and your well-being is more important than how I feel about your dad.
Also, using questions in your validation gives your child prompts for communicating their feelings. This helps them get their emotions out instead of stuffing them down. For very young children, you can even throw in questions about specific emotions: “Do you feel sad? Or angry? Or frustrated?” This significantly increases their emotional intelligence.
Next time you come across a situation that requires validation, see if you can step your game up. And keep an eye out for the results 🙂