Can Encouraging Your Kid to Be Less Stressed Backfire?

The price of accidental invalidation

Posted Dec 02, 2019

Source: stevepb/Pixabay

In both my personal and professional lives, I am all too aware of the mountains of stress we all endure. I am even more aware of the mounting rates of teenage depression and anxiety that have resulted. It is for these reasons that I work really hard not to be an added source of pressure for teens. I am sure I don’t succeed all the time, but it is an effort I am very mindful of.

In addition to trying to reduce pressure, I try to be a source of validation. My professional training as a psychologist has demonstrated the importance of validation in reducing depression and anxiety. When we feel understood and respected, it is far easier to manage unpleasant experiences and emotions. This is one part of my job that I work to apply at home.

The irony is that I have recognized that my best intentions can still steer me wrong. By focusing on what I think is important, such as reducing stress, sometimes I miss the boat on validating what is important to someone else.

My son recently went through course selection for his sophomore year in high school. There is so much academic pressure on teenagers, and my son is great at putting even more on himself. I was determined to reduce the pressure by reminding him that it is not necessary to take the most challenging courses he is recommended for. I was actually pretty excited when he left for school on course selection day because I thought I had convinced him of my “wisdom.”

I was wrong.

He came home, having registered for a more challenging course load then he originally proposed. Far more than what I think is wise. My anxiety for him sky-rocketed.

I tried again to remind him that he could change his mind, and we could reach out to his guidance counselor. My effort was met with resistance.

The next morning, on the way to the bus stop, I tried again. Sometimes I need to learn to let things go! As I proceeded to tell him again that I thought his choice was a mistake, I noticed a look on his face. The light bulb went off.

I realized I was invalidating his belief in himself. I was so focused on trying to do what I thought was best for him that I was missing the point of what he thought was best. Worst yet, I realized I was accidentally sending the message that I didn’t believe he was capable of the workload he believes he can handle.

Once I stopped pushing my own agenda and really listened to him, I was lucky enough to catch the misinterpretation and correct it. My concern was not driven by a belief that he isn’t capable of the work. It was an indication of my own struggle with the idea that we don’t have to push ourselves so hard to prove we can handle everything. Just as importantly, we may be able to handle a challenge, but that doesn’t mean it is in the best interest of our happiness.

I will likely continue to push my own agenda of stress reduction, but I will try harder to pair it with the validation of his agenda. 

This is a goal I encourage for all parents. It is our job to guide our children in making choices in their own best interest. However, we should be a bit less focused on what we believe is in their interest and more willing to hear the validity in their thoughts.

That doesn’t mean we have to agree with their choices or even permit them. However, it does mean we need to validate them by trying to see the choices from their perspective. Interestingly, doing so increases their willingness to view our perspective as valid.