The Power of Validation: How to Help Your Child Feel Heard and Understood
As parents, we all want to help our children feel better when they're upset or sad. It's natural to want to make everything right and take away their pain, but it can lead us to invalidate their feelings in the process. We all know that children's emotions are just as real as adults, and they need to be acknowledged and validated.
Validating is not the same as agreeing
Validating your child's feelings means acknowledging and accepting their emotions, without necessarily agreeing with their perspective or behavior. It's especially hard when you want to comfort them. For instance, if your child says, 'No one likes me,' it might be tempting to respond, 'Don't say that, I love you.' However, this response may convey the message that their feelings are wrong or invalid. Instead, try to acknowledge and validate their emotions by saying something like, 'You must be very upset to say something like that. I want you to know that Mommy loves you very much. Do you want to talk about why you feel that way?” By doing so, you're letting your child know that you understand and accept their feelings, while still providing reassurance and support.
So, how can we reassure our children without invalidating their feelings?
Here are some tips:
Acknowledge their feelings
When your child comes to you upset about something, the first thing you should do is acknowledge their feelings. Let them know that you understand how they're feeling and that it's okay to feel that way. For example, instead of saying "Don't cry sweety. Let's look at the bright side", you could say something like, "I see that you're feeling sad. It's okay to feel that way, and I'm here to listen or just give you a hug if you need." This lets your child know that you care and that you're willing to support them through their emotions.
Validate their feelings
Validation is an important part of reassuring a child. It's important to let them know that their feelings are valid and that it's okay to feel the way they do. For example, you could say something like, "I understand why you're feeling angry. That would make me angry too." This shows your child that you're on their side and that you understand what they're going through.
Encourage healthy expression of emotions
It's important to encourage your child to express their feelings in a healthy way, whether that's through talking, drawing, or some other activity. This can help them process their emotions and feel better in the long run. For example, you could say something like, "Why don't you tell me more about how you're feeling? It might help to get it out." Or, "Would you like to draw a picture of how you're feeling?"
Finally, it's important to offer support to your child. Let them know that you're there for them and that you'll help them through whatever they're going through. For example, you could say something like, "I'm here for you, and we'll get through this together.", Or “would you like to talk about it or would you like a hug?”. This shows your child that they're not alone and that they can rely on you for support.
Here are examples of invalidating statements:
"It's not that bad" or "It's not a real problem": These phrases can make a child feel like their feelings are not important or that they are overreacting. Instead, try to acknowledge their feelings and show that you understand.
"Don't be upset" or "Don't say that": These phrases can be dismissive and imply that the child should not express their emotions. Instead, encourage them to express themselves in a healthy way.
"You are a big girl/boy, you should react this way" or "You shouldn't feel that way": These phrases can make a child feel like their feelings are not valid or that they are not allowed to feel a certain way. Instead, validate their feelings and let them know it's okay to feel the way they do.
"It's just a _" or "There is nothing to feel afraid of": These phrases can downplay a child's fears or concerns, implying that they are overreacting. Instead, listen to their worries and offer support and reassurance.
"No one else feels that way, you have no reason to do": This phrase can make a child feel like their feelings are not valid or that they are abnormal. Instead, validate their feelings and let them know it's okay to feel the way they do.
"You are too sensitive": This can make a child feel like their emotions are not important or that they are not allowed to express themselves. Instead, encourage them to express themselves in a healthy way and offer support and validation.
In conclusion, reassuring a child without invalidating their feelings is all about acknowledging, validating, encouraging healthy expression, and offering support. By following these tips, you can help your child develop healthy coping mechanisms and build a strong emotional foundation for the future. Remember, it's okay for your child to feel upset or angry sometimes.
By acknowledging their feelings and supporting them through their emotions, you can help them grow into emotionally resilient and confident adults. If you want a guide on healthy emotional validation, check out our article here.