This month we continue our discussion on emotional literacy and how we can help our children by teaching them the language of emotions. Validation is one of the powerful tools that parents and caregivers can utilize to accomplish this. Let’s take a closer look at the meaning of validation!
Validating our children gives them the opportunity to harness the power of their internal emotional world and assists them in regulating and controlling their feelings more effectively. This creates an internal set of coping tools for children, allowing them the opportunity to develop a healthy sense of self-acceptance, security and self-control, and later allows them to self-validate without having to continually look for it outside of themselves. What a beautiful gift!
Now let’s delve into some everyday situations–‘To validate or invalidate? That’s the question!’
1. DEFIANT ANGRY CHILD – refusing to go to bed.
What to do? Validate an angry outburst, but still enforce rules and consequences. This lets children know anger is a normal emotion and reaction, but that there are appropriate and inappropriate ways to behave when expressing it. To validate while still enforcing rules can also be an opportunity to reinforce your child’s self-esteem. It lets them know you are sure they understand the rules and that they have a choice in whether or not they incur a consequence!
Invalidation: “You need to quit this tantrum right now! Do what you are told because I said so!”
Validation: “I understand that you are feeling very angry right now, and we can talk when you calm down, but I know that you understand the rules, and it is still time for bed”. OR “You are angry because it is bedtime and you want to stay up and watch tv, but you know the rules and what will happen if you continue, so what choice would you like to make?”
2. UPSET RESISTANT TEEN – something seems to have happened at school, and your teen is moody and quiet.
What to do? Mirror and reflect your teen’s feelings. Offer support without needing to fix it. This gives teens the space they often need as they navigate an emotionally tumultuous time and struggle between dependence and independence. It also lets them know you are aware, you are attuned, and they have a place to go to talk and be heard if they so choose. (Please note, if there are safety issues involved, the steps you take in getting involved in a situation with your teen significantly change.)
Invalidation: “You need to talk about this – I can help. It can’t be that bad. Tomorrow’s another day!”
Validation: “I can see that you are upset about something – you seem very quiet. Maybe you don’t want to talk right now, but I am here if you need me.”
3. DRAMATIC, SENSITIVE MIDDLE-SCHOOLER – Your middle school daughter had an upsetting disagreement with a friend.
What to do? Listen and hear what your daughter is expressing and feeling. Validate how they must feel while you remain calm and sensitive to their experience. The key here is to provide boundaries and containment, in a way that does not invalidate them and yet also does not buy into their drama, fuelling it further!
Invalidation: “It is not the end of the world. You are always so dramatic! It’ll be fine.”
Validation: “Wow, you seem to be feeling a lot of different emotions about the disagreement you had with your friend. At the moment it sounds like it feels like the end of the world. Can you remember the last time this happened though, and how you felt the next morning? How about you take a deep breath, sleep on it, and you can see how you feel in the morning. Tomorrow you can think about what you might like to do.”
GOOD LUCK on an empowering journey of validating your child. Try some self-validation too while you’re at it – you deserve it!!!
Dr. Smith’s dissertation research on this topic is entitled: Development and Validation of a Psychometric Scale to Measure Adults’ Perceived Invalidation of Childhood Emotional Experiences by Parent or Primary Caregiver.
Please note: Nothing in what you find here should be construed as medical advice pertinent to any individual. As is true with all written materials, and especially information found on the internet, you must be the judge of what appears valid and useful for yourself. Please take up any questions you might have regarding the content of this website with your psychotherapist or physician.