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5 Simple Statements to Validate Your Child’s Feelings

The why, what, and how of parental validation.

Key points

  • Parental validation doesn't condone poor behavior; rather, it helps a child to feel seen, heard, and valued.
  • It also serves to deescalate conflict and soothe intense emotions for both parent and child.
  • Effective validating strategies include being aware of body language, actively listening and reflecting, and being non-judgmental.
fizkes/Shutterstock
Source: fizkes/Shutterstock

The why of parental validation

As stated in part one, validation is an essential communication skill, especially for parents. The goal of validation is making someone feel heard, understood, and worthwhile. Validation lets another person know that we acknowledge their feelings about an experience and understand their perspective.

We validate when we want the other to see that their feelings are important and that their experience of a particular situation is legitimate and worthy of our time and respect. It also serves to de-escalate conflict, de-intensify emotions, and help both parties be more receptive to the other’s point of view. Validation is like throwing a wet blanket over piping-hot emotions. Can you think of a better parenting tool in the heat of the moment?

The what of parental validation

Parents also hesitate to use it because of fear of “validating” or condoning unwanted behavior. Validation is not the same as agreement. Validation says, “I can see where you’re coming from,” not “You have my permission to act out your aggression because you were angry.”

Even if you don’t understand your child’s behavior, it’s crucial to validate the emotions they experienced. For example, “I understand how you would feel frustrated and disappointed about the grade you received after all of the effort you put in. However, it’s not OK to break your belongings when you’re angry.”

The how of parental validation

The first step of this process is to remember how it feels when someone understood you. Remember the feeling of alleviation, of being able to put your guard down. That is the gift of validation, and that is the gift you’ll be giving to your loved one—the gift we all deserve. I’ve created an acronym to help simplify the process: BARN. Whenever there’s a conflict, go straight to the BARN!

Body language

Be sure to maintain eye contact when listening, but be sure that it’s not too intense. This can be intimidating to children. Try not to glance at your phone, or watch TV during the conversation. Leaning forward also lets them know you’re engaged and actively involved.

It’s easy to become uncomfortable when you cannot rationalize your child’s reasoning or your child is disclosing something you did that made them feel upset. The “go-to” body language when we’re feeling defensive or dislike what the other is saying is to cross our arms. This is also often a signal that you are experiencing discomfort and are “closed off” or protecting yourself. Your goal is to send the sign that you’re open and receptive to whatever your child is disclosing. This requires a certain amount of mindfulness, so if you’re feeling overwhelmed, it’s best to take 10 minutes to breathe, cool down, and then start the conversation.

Active listening

The goal of active listening is to communicate to your child that they have your undivided attention through summarization, reflection, and clarification. This type of listening sends the message that you’re genuinely attempting to understand their experience correctly and, most notably, that you care! This type of listening has the added benefit of building trust and rapport between parent and child.

This is also your opportunity to ask clarifying questions during the conversation. Lead with, “I want to make sure I understand you correctly.” Then summarize, reflect and ask for clarification. For example, “I could be wrong but what I hear you saying is that you felt disrespected and frustrated when your brother ignored you. Is that right?”

Reflect feelings

Identifying feelings accurately requires active listening. Remember that it’s OK to be wrong when labeling emotions in these situations. It’s a win-win situation. If you’re correct, they feel validated. If you’re incorrect in labeling the emotions they felt, you are afforded a learning opportunity about your child and their inner world.

The best technique is to look for non-verbal clues as they’re speaking about the emotion they were feeling in the moment. Are they grimacing? Tearing up? Snarling? Becoming more passionate?

Then ask yourself, how would I feel if that happened to me? Flex your empathy muscles. Affect labeling or labeling emotions is a scientifically proven way to de-intensify and regulate emotions.

Non-judgment

Perhaps the most challenging aspect of the acronym, maintaining non-judgmental body and verbal language, is undoubtedly difficult during any conflict. It’s important to remember that judgmental communication will only derail the conversation. It’s a massive barrier to conflict resolution.

Judgmental statements include, “That’s ridiculous!” “That’s not a big deal,” “Seriously? That’s what’s bothering you?” and “You’re making it worse!” Judgmental non-verbal communication to avoid would include eye-rolling, which demonstrates contempt; constant sighing, tone, and volume of voice are all important during conflict resolution. No matter how angry your child is when disclosing their feelings, do your best not to mirror these emotions.

  1. Now that you’ve shared your point of view, it makes sense that you would be so upset about “x, y, and z.”
  2. I appreciate you sharing your feelings with me. It must have been so frustrating for you to feel misunderstood.
  3. This is a tough situation. I believe that you can do hard things. How can I help or support you through this? Do you want me to listen or help you to problem solve?
  4. Sure! If that happened to me, I would feel (emotion) too!
  5. You deserve to be heard. Will you sit down with me? I want to understand your perspective better.

Be Well,

Dr. K

References

Rathus, J. H., & Miller, A. L. (2015). DBT®skills manual for adolescents. Guilford Press.

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