In my book, 10 Days to a Less Defiant Child, I wrote, and continue to strongly believe, that understanding your child is just as important, if not even more important, than loving him or her. Just as there are many divorced people who may still love their ex-spouse but never felt understood by him or her, there are many children and teens who feel loved but not understood. I can assure you that no adult has ever come to my office complaining of parents who took too much time and energy to understand him or her!
Validating the feelings of your children helps them to feel understood. To help your child feel understood means keeping your ego and desire to lecture in check. Validating your child's feelings also means that you don’t judge him or her. Instead, you simply acknowledge his or her feelings. This takes focus and discipline as parents. As I share with my clients, the best discipline you can give your child is having the self-discipline to be patient, empathetic, and loving---especially when he or she is not acting lovable. Contrary to what many frustrated parents may think, particularly during those stressful times of conflicts, validating feelings is not condoning bad choices or giving in to defiant behavior.
"Validating" means giving your child or teen that all-important, and seemingly elusive, message that "Your feelings make sense. I not only am giving you permission to feel what you feel but I am also welcoming and accepting your feelings in a non-judgmental way.” Validating your child coveys deep empathy. This will help build your child's self-esteem and reduce his or her defiant behavior, which is often the language choice of children who do not feel understood.
Five Ways to Validate Your Child/Adolescent’s Feelings
- Communicating your intent to listen without judging or blaming and calling yourself out if you stray from this empathetic stance.
- Being sensitive to, and acknowledging how difficult and even embarrassing it is to be “different” when he/she wants to be like everyone else.
- Acknowledging the problems in his/her life and that they matter. Many children and teens I counsel repeatedly share that their parents minimize or dismiss their struggles.
- Reflecting about how upsetting it feels to them when the walls seem to be closing in and how overwhelming it is when his/her emotions seem to spin out of control.
- Understanding how deep shame (often non-detectable to frustrated parents) can keep influencing the child to behave in ways that he/she may regret later.
It is crucial to remember that when children feel validated, they will be better able to hear you and change their own behaviors. Stay mindful of how important this is not only to your child but also to your relationship with him or her. Validating your child’s or teen’s feelings is crucial to building his or her self-esteem and will promote solid overall emotional health.