Validating Your Child's Emotions
Emotional validation is recognizing someone else's feelings or needs without judgment. You don't have to agree with someone's perspective to validate their emotions. You just have to show the person that you understand how they could feel the way they do.
Why is it important to validate your child's emotions?
When you validate your child's emotions, you can:
- Help your child feel seen, understood, and valued.
- Help your child learn to identify their emotions and work through them.
- Show your child that you're someone they can trust with their feelings.
- Teach your child to be more accepting of negative feelings. This can help them stay calm and handle those feelings when they happen.
Validating your child's emotions can also help your child learn self-compassion. When people have self-compassion, they are more likely to be able to deal with adversity and setbacks in a healthy way.
Validating your child's emotions
It's important to show your child that you understand how they're feeling and that you're willing to listen. Here are some things you can do to validate your child's emotions.
- Really listen.
Show your child that you're interested in what they're feeling and why. Here's how:
- Focus only on your child, without distraction.
- Show that you're listening by using your body language and voice. You can sit at eye level with your child, lean in toward them, and nod your head as they talk. You can say things like "Mmmhmmm," and, "Oh, I see what you mean."
- Tell your child that you understand what they're feeling and why. You can say things like, "I see. You got angry when your brother ripped your drawing. That must be so frustrating since you worked really hard on it."
- Remember that your child's problems are as real to them as yours are to you.
Something that seems small to you might be a very big thing to your child. For example, fitting in with the crowd might seem less important to you now as an adult. But for your child, being seen as "different" or not fitting in may feel like a big problem.
- Be genuine.
Kids can often tell when adults mean what they say, versus when they're just saying the "right words." You may not actually understand why a misplaced sweatshirt deserves a huge meltdown. But you probably do understand the frustration of losing something that's important to you. Focus on that.
- Let your child feel the emotion fully.
Telling someone to "stop worrying" or to "relax" when they're upset usually doesn't work very well. Plus, telling your child not to feel a certain way is like saying, "What you're feeling is wrong or not acceptable." It doesn't help your child learn to recognize and deal with difficult emotions. Instead, it teaches them to avoid and suppress those feelings. Try this:
- Instead of saying: "Don't be silly. You don't hate Eli! He's your best friend!"
- You can say: "Wow. You must be really mad at Eli. I bet it's hard to feel so angry with someone you play with every day."
- Try not to "fix" the problem to make the emotion go away.
Help your child learn to identify and work through feelings and problems on their own. It's easy to want to protect your child from having difficult feelings. But these feelings are a part of life. When you don't try to spare your child from them, you are helping your child learn skills for handling them.
- Remember that every feeling is acceptable, but every behavior is not.
Validating your child's feelings doesn't mean you have to give in every time your child wants something. It also doesn't mean allowing your child to behave in inappropriate ways. For example, it's helpful to show understanding for your child's anger at a playground pal. It's not okay to let your child express their anger by pushing the friend or saying mean things.
Current as of: February 9, 2022
Author: Healthwise Staff
Andrew Littlefield PhD - Psychology, Behavioral Health