Validating a child and its emotions means acknowledging their feelings and letting them share without judging, criticizing, or ignoring them. Through validation, you convey that they have been heard and understood. You send the message that you love and accept them no matter what they’re feeling or thinking. Children who are validated feel reassured that they will be accepted and loved regardless of their feelings. Children who are not validated are more vulnerable to peer pressure, bullying, and emotional and behavioral problems.
How to validate your child’s emotions:
1. Listening to your child without judgment or blame.
2. Be sensitive to the words and complaints even if it is difficult.
3. Acknowledge the problems or joy your child is expressing and how upsetting or pleasant it must feel without minimizing or dismissing their experience.
4. Reflect on how overwhelming it can be when emotions seem too big.
5. Consider how shame and guilt can influence your child.
Helping your child with self-regulation involves offering validation as the first step. Validating your child’s feelings doesn't mean condoning tantrums, selfishness, or out-of-control behavior. Validation allows you to acknowledge the truth of your child’s internal experience. Let’s take sports as an example. It’s normal and okay to not always play your best, be the best player, or do all things perfectly. Validation is not the same as comforting, praising or encouraging your child. For instance, telling your child that they played great in their soccer game isn’t validating when they are expressing they are upset about how they played. What is validating is saying the truth, such as ‘It’s hard when you don’t play as well as you would like to, isn’t it?’
As parents, you can even help your child develop the essential self-validating skills that set the groundwork for confidence and self-esteem in adolescence and beyond.
How to help your child self-validate and regulate:
1. Notice without Judgement
Take the time to notice and name emotions as they come up without judging. Sometimes just articulating an emotion helps to defuse it. If you notice your child is beginning to look upset, ask them to describe how they are feeling. Just make sure if your child tells you that she/he’s feeling sad, or anxious, or angry, acknowledge that without trying to fix it for them. Sometimes hearing “Oh, it isn’t that bad!” can lead to a child thinking that their emotions are wrong and that they shouldn’t share how they are feeling. Instead, you can validate the emotion such as “Yes, that does sound frustrating” or “Yes, you do look disappointed” and then encourage healthy ways of dealing with that feeling such as deep breathing or giving a break.
2. Acknowledge and be a Role Model
Acknowledge a negative feeling without judgment, makes it less powerful. This gives you space to begin to think constructively about what to do with that feeling. Parents can help to do this by modelling with their own behavior. For example, if you are upset because you forgot something at the grocery store, share that feeling: “I’m so frustrated right now! I forgot to get milk.” Then, after you’ve acknowledged how you feel, you can model coping and problem-solving skills. You might say, “I’m going to take some deep breaths to calm down as that often helps me.” Then once you’re feeling better, you can ask yourself ``How can I solve this problem or what can I do next?” and start brainstorming ideas. Your child will begin to pick up on the skills that you are modelling for them, but they might also need some extra support as they begin to learn how to deal with their own emotions.
Parents can sometimes be blindsided by the strong emotions young people show during tantrums. But kids don’t go from calm to sobbing or being angry in an instant even if it seems like that. Emotions build over time, like a wave. Young people can learn to manage those emotions that seem overwhelming by noticing and naming them earlier before that wave gets too big.
Some kids benefit from ranking how strong their emotions are on a scale of 1 to 10, with 1 being calm and 10 being furious. You can model doing this, too. When you are feeling frustrated because you forgot to get milk at the grocery store, you might announce that you’re at a 4. It might feel silly to do this at first, but it teaches kids to pause and notice how they are feeling and then you can discuss with them when calmer.