“But this isn’t the right shirt!!” your child violently exclaims as you beg her to get dressed for school.
“It doesn’t matter, just put it on, it’s the only thing you have right now.”
(screaming and crying) “But is isn’t the RIGHT one!!” (more tears)
“It isn’t that big of a deal, why are you crying? Just wear the shirt.”
Sound familiar? Our kids have so many big emotions, and we are asking a lot of them when we expect them to handle them every minute of every day. Here is the thing, it isn’t up to us to dictate what we expect their feelings and emotions to be, it’s up to us to validate the ones they have. Often, parents will remark, ‘it isn’t a big deal’ or ‘ why are you crying about that??’, we forget that to them it is a big deal, or that it is tear-worthy.
All we need to do is simply validate the feelings and emotions of our children.
No judgement necessary.
We want our kids to learn how to show empathy, so here is a great way to model that! By sharing in their feelings (whether justified or not) we can demonstrate to our kids that we are there for them and that we care. When a child is experiencing an emotion, dismissing or questioning that emotion leads to self-doubt.
Here is the thing, it isn’t up to us to dictate what we expect their feelings and emotions to be, it’s up to us to validate the ones they have.
Think about it. Let’s take a marriage for example. You find something questionable on your significant other’s phone and feel a range of emotions. You are experiencing anger, jealousy, and sadness and have a conversation with your spouse about it. Their response is “it’s not a big deal, don’t be upset.” How would you feel? Isolated? Dismissed? This isn’t any different for our children. They need us to respond to to their feelings and emotions with empathy and concern, despite our opinions of them.
How to validate a child’s feelings and emotions?
Validation shows a level of understanding that kids need. This builds self-esteem, helps them to become more self-aware, and greatly impacts the connection between parent and child. Words, body language, or physical touch can all validate a child’s emotions and express empathy. This might be a mindset shift for you, or might feel unnatural, but, it is an extremely powerful tool that can really affect change in a chid’s behavior, and over time, it will become easy!
According to the book, The Power of Validation, validation is the recognition and acceptance that your child has feelings and thoughts that are true and real to him regardless of logic or whether it makes sense to anyone else. So how can we validate? Does this mean we give in? No. We have to first separate validation from actions or reinforcement. It is simply recognize the feeling or the struggle that the child is going through.
For example, above we played out a scenario of not having the right shirt. A way to validate that child’s feelings would be to say “it is so frustrating when the right shirt isn’t clean, that must make you feel very mad.” This let’s the child know that you understand them, and that their feelings are real, but it doesn’t necessarily change the outcome.
By separating feelings and actions, we are saying ‘I hear you, and I understand you’, but the end result isn’t any different.
validation is the recognition and acceptance that your child has feelings and thoughts that are true and real to him regardless of logic or whether it makes sense to anyone else. – The Power of Validation
Think about a time you got hit with a large and unexpected bill, you might have felt worried or mad. Think about a time you lost someone you loved, and experienced grief. Those feelings of being worried, experiencing anger or of deep grief and sadness are real to us. They are also real to our children. Just because the anger is due to a blue cup instead of red, or your child is worried that they won’t get a chance to play their favorite board game, or they feel grief because their beloved stuffed animal lost an eyeball, doesn’t mean those feelings aren’t just as real, and just as valid. The emotion is the same, despite the trigger.
We don’t get to decide which of our children’s feelings and emotions are real or valid. We do have the opportunity to meet the child where they are, to validate and discuss their feelings, and do express empathy and care. Not only will this practice deepen the bond and connection with your child, but it will also impact their self-esteem and self-expression.
Photo Credit: Mother and Daughter, Young girl whispering to mom
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