Recently, I talked about the secret to cooperation: empathy. Empathy helps children feel understood, and it is one component of the conversation. The next piece is validation — which helps your child recognize their feelings as normal. There is a difference between empathy and validation, and together, both help build emotionally intelligent children.
Validation is an incredibly helpful tool to use when your child is worried.
Children and teens often hide their worries from their parents, even when their feelings are acknowledged. This is typically because parents try to help their child find solutions to their problems, or tell them not to worry. This is what we are all built to do — especially parents!
It’s normal to want the best for your child and want to remove their pain. When they’re infants, we do everything to help them stop crying, and that doesn’t change as they get older, right? The thing is, saying not to worry and trying to solve their problems only lasts for a year or two. After that, they start to interpret different messages from you, in your attempt to soothe their fears. They can start to believe that it’s actually not okay to feel worried or sad, or have other negative feelings. This is because when they present these feelings to you, you attempt to fix them immediately.
While it is in your instinct as a parent to do that, it doesn’t help your child process what they are dealing with.
Early humans needed to make quick decisions for their children in times of uncertainty. But now, we live in a society where we aren’t being chased by a bear. We can let our children feel things without needing to remove them from the situation immediately.So in an attempt to avoid those feelings and conversations, your kid will start to mention them to you less. But you will see their behavior change with more whining, complaining, meltdowns, and tantrums, regardless of the age.
Now that you know why validation is important, let’s define it.
Validation is the act of letting your child know their feelings are ok, common, expected, normal… and that’s it. No solving their problem, trying to make them laugh, forget, or make them happy again. It’s harder than it sounds. I know it hurts your heart to see your child upset. But your child will learn to stay resilient through their emotions. They need the space to have feelings without worrying about whether or not their parents think they should have those emotions, or if they’ll get in trouble. Or be dismissed for worrying about a ‘small’ thing.
So how can we validate our children?
We can simply say, “You’re really worried about that.” (Empathy) Then, “It makes sense that you’re wondering what might happen when…” (Validation) Or, “It’s hard to feel like you don’t know what is going to happen next.” (Empathy) Then, “Lots of kids feel worried when they try a new experience.” (Validation) Pause and let your child talk about their worry, or draw a picture about how big it is. For teens, pick a song whose lyrics fit what they are feeling.
Keep the focus on them. It will help them feel understood.
Especially teens, who have a tendency to feel misunderstood. At the end of your conversation, you can offer to help them work through a solution, or ask what they want to do about the situation. It’s important to note that when we make space for our kids and teens to feel their feelings, and know they are ok to have… We must also make space for them to find their own solutions to these problems in their OWN time.
With empathy and validation, you’re on your way from turning your worrier into a warrior!
If you want to learn more about supporting your child or teen through their emotions, click the link below to learn more about our parent workshop.