Emotionally Intelligent Children and the Role of Validation
Validation helps convey acceptance of self and others. During the process of repairing, rebuilding self-esteem, processing trauma, and connecting with loved ones, the topic of validation comes up in my counseling sessions with clients.
Many parents report they believe validation is agreeing, condoning, or giving in to poor behavior. That is not the case, let’s explore this example: Child is angry because it rained, and we cannot go to the park as planned.
With no validation: “Can’t you see it’s raining? What am I going to do with all the muddy clothes? Why are you making this hard on me? It’s not my fault it’s raining!”
With validation: “I know you are frustrated because we can’t go. You waited all week for this outing, and you are sad and angry we must postpone the plans. I looked forward to it as well because we were going to play together. Can you think of something we can do instead?”
In the first example the parent did not address the child’s feelings and focused on their own. The child was scolded for feeling sad and frustrated and even guilted as it would inconvenience the parent with laundry. In the second example, the parent did not agree to go to make the child “happy”, the boundary was set, however there was an acceptance the situation frustrated the child and was supportive.
Validating children when they are sad is especially useful so they can get to know their feelings, accept they happen, and it provides a safe environment to regulate their emotions. Here is an example of validation when a child is sad because he got excluded from play at school:
Without validation: “If those friends do not want you around, then drop them! You are better than that, find better friends.” “Don’t cry over people who are selfish and mean, it is your fault for choosing bad kids!”.
With validation: “It sounds like you are really hurt they didn’t invite you to play this time”, “feeling excluded is hurting your feelings”, “Do you want to practice talking to them about this situation?” “Do you need help, or you want me to simply listen?” “Has this happened before, or is this the first time?”
You can see the second example was more useful because there was no judgement made, no blaming, or criticism. The parent offered support and allowed the child to express and problem solve if they wanted to do something about it. The key is to offer empathy, acceptance and if requested some guidance. In the long term, the child will learn to feel the emotion, accept it, regulate it and problem solve situations.
For parents, allowing their children to feel sadness is exceedingly difficult, they often tell me it is “their Job” to ensure their child’s happiness. The reality is that emotions need to be felt and regulated to interact with life’s difficulties in the present and future. Helping children in this emotional journey can be stressful because parents may see it as easier to fix what is making the child sad as a shortcut to moving them to a “happy space” versus the longer road of allowing the feeling and helping them to regulate it themselves.
Here are some examples of what parents can say when children are sad, angry, or scared:
No: “Your friend moved away, but you’ll find other friends don’t worry”
Yes: “Your friend changing schools makes you sad, it is tough not playing with her anymore”
No: “You’re a sore loser, everyone loses at Monopoly sometimes, don’t play if you can’t handle it”
Yes: “You’re disappointed you lost your play money, and it is difficult to exit the game early”
No: “There’s nothing under the bed, stop being a baby. Your brother was never afraid.”
Yes: “You feel scared of the dark and unknown noises at night. What do you need to feel safe?”
Validating your child’s feelings will help normalize emotions and be able to interact with life’s difficulties. The key is to accompany the child without minimizing or fixing situations, listen with empathy and offer support for children to start problem-solving and regulating on their own.
Source: Raising Emotionally Intelligent Children, The Heart of Parenting by John Gottman