The Invalidated Child: Part 2

12 May 2015

In Part 1 of this series, we looked at how adults can and do invalidate children’s feelings, thoughts and emotions.

Whilst our focus and emphasis is on the parent/child relationship, validation is an important component in other relationships and environments.

In this article in Part 2, we are looking more closely at how to validate a child (or oneself or adults, family and friends).


Validation is a crucial skill for anyone to have, especially parents as it is a valuable foundation for any child to have and it helps to build and cement relationships and stronger bonds within the family setting. It can be a difficult skill to learn and especially if the parent has themselves had an invalidating experience. It also requires acute listening; a deeper connection with the person that you are engaging with and consistent practice, practice, practice.

Whenever someone denies what a person is feeling, that person is not being validated. Essentially, denying a person’s feelings invalidates them. Invalidation affects children’s self esteem, sense of self and self worth, thus creating confusion with the likely consequence of them finding it difficult to regulate their emotions. This impacts on their emotional vulnerability resulting in maladaptive and/or inadequate responses to and from their environment.

Validating someones feelings, thoughts, emotions

Validating someones feelings, thoughts, emotions Photo Crd: AmberMidnight

Some parents may feel that validating their child’s feelings, thoughts, and emotions is agreeing with them in any circumstance or situation or that they may appear to be weak parents if they were to do so. However, validation is about:

  • Listening
  • Giving and paying undivided attention to children when they are speaking and especially teenagers
  • Describing what you see, hear or sense about the communication from the child (or other person you are engaging with).


Descriptions help to put aside your own thoughts and feelings about the particular situation being discussed, and focuses on the other person’s feelings and how they interpret, internalise or represent the situation from their world. How they feel about the situation is neither right nor wrong. It just is!

Descriptions also help you to state the facts from their dialogue (verbal or non-verbal dialogue) without you putting your own interpretation on it. This helps to offer them a more accurate reflection of their thoughts and feelings; which in turn help them to feel heard, listened to and that their feelings are valid and legitimate.


Examples of reflections or descriptions could be:

♦       I sense that you are still very frustrated about the situation

♦       Sounds like you’re angry that he keeps shouting at you

♦       I am hearing you are feeling like walking out due to his ongoing denial

♦       I can see that you are very upset.

The above examples are often termed as Reflective Listening and can be powerful in validating a child or another adult.


Validation on the other hand, helps you to connect with the person/child at a deeper level. For instance:

-         I can understand your frustration about that

-         Anyone would feel that way

-         If she keeps stabbing you in the back, it makes sense that you wouldn’t want to continue to be her friend

-         With your grandmother just passing away, I can understand you wanting to scream, shout or run wild.

In terms of a child wishing not to go to school, in this scenario, the parent or main care giver would validate the child’s feelings and thoughts at that moment of not wanting to go to school, however, the parent would then highlight that the action or behaviour of missing school is not an option.

Validation conveys the message to the person that their feelings, emotions, thoughts and behaviours are understandable in the context of the person’s situation and current or past experiences.

In all the above examples of validation, it can be seen that the sentences are not about denying nor agreeing with the person, but accepting and/or acknowledging that in the current context of their situation, their feelings, thoughts and emotions are valid and understandable.


The number one complaint from young people about parents is that their parents do not or did not listen to them. We are taught to read and write at school and in some cases, in the home environment, however, we are not taught HOW to listen!

As discussed earlier, listening is a crucial aspect of validating a child or another adult. In Part 3 of this series, we will look at the essential ingredients of listening effectively so that your child/children feel heard and listened to.

By Jennifer McLeod © 2015

The Invalidated Child – Part 1

4 February 2015



This article is a series of articles on invalidation, including the experiences of a child or parent that has been invalidated and how parents, professionals and practitioners can validate children to make a difference to their outcomes.

The invalidated child can seem like an enigma and is easily misunderstood. They come from all backgrounds, walks of life, race, culture and class in society.

An invalidated child can look like a child that is:

  • Misbehaving
  • Difficult
  • Seeking attention
  • Sabotaging their own success
  • Withdrawn
  • Attempting suicide
  • Self harming
  • Experiencing BPD (borderline personality disorder)
  • or exhibiting other maladaptive emotions to compensate for the “lack”.


The “lack” could include lack of:

  • Being heard
  • Having their experiences validated as real for THEM!
  • Having their opinions accepted
  • Having their feelings heard or accepted as valid and real for them
  • Privacy
  • Being cared for resulting in neglect
  • A sense of self
  • Other


An “invalidating environment” (Marsha Linehan; 1993) encompasses some or all of the above for the invalidated child.


How does a parent, caregiver or other significant adults invalidate a child?

(This also includes professionals and practitioners)

Examples of how adults invalidate children include:

All of the above examples highlighted in the “lack of” section; for instance, not listening to them; etc.


  • Abuse: – verbal, physical, emotional, sexual, psychological
  • Neglect
  • Denying their feelings “no (yes) you don’t (do) feel that way (e.g. angry)
  • Teaching children to lie “tell them I’m not here” or “this (sexual abuse) didn’t happen and if you tell anyone I will kill you!”
  • Responding erratically, inappropriately or in extreme fashions to the child’s communication or feelings
  • Ridicule them
  • Disregard their painful or distressing emotions
  • Non- responsive to needs of the child


Marsha Linehan suggests that sexual abuse is the most extreme form of invalidation for a child. These children are generally lied to about the nature of the abuse and threatened by the abuser if they “tell”. Additionally, the child is further burdened by the guilt and shame of the abuse, coupled with the abuse not being acknowledged by other family members and face being blamed or disbelieved if they pluck up the courage to “tell”. clinicians and researchers suggest that it is the secrecy surrounding childhood sexual abuse that may be a key factor for people experiencing BPD (Bipolar or Borderline Personality Disorder).

The invalidated child is one that is also very susceptible to being scapegoated within the family setting, especially if they appear as an enigma to family members and others around them. The likely result is that they consciously or unconsciously embark on a journey of seeking approval and reassurance, especially from their parents, with the likely effect of a cyclical process of denial and punishment, followed by more scapegoating.

That said, all children need approval, reassurance, need to be loved, to be validated and to feel safe and secure in their environment as their secure base.



Part 2 of this article will include:

  • Looking at further effects of invalidation for the child.
  • How to validate a child



Linehan, M.M., (1993 ). Cognitive-Behavioral Treatment of Borderline Personality Disorder. New York: London: Guildford Press


For any further information and queries about how Step Up! International can help you with self harming behaviour or any family related matters visit:

Scapegoating Challenges Within The Family Setting

27 October 2014

The family setting is an interesting arena that is rife with a gamut of emotions, trials and tribulations

Sometimes relationships can get strained and individual family members can be singled out to bear the brunt of the family strain.

Scapegoating is something that happens in any setting, group, gender, age, or race however, for the purpose of this article, I will be focusing on the nature of scapegoating in the family setting and family system. do-you-love-me-image

In some respects one child in the family may be picking up on the stresses and challenges within the family system, and perhaps more than their siblings. As such, that child may act up or act out in response to their perception of the stressor or in reaction to feelings, and in different ways, depending on their age.

Often times children are not able to explain or understand what they are experiencing, nor able to manage these feelings, hence their behavior of acting up or acting out in an attempt to do so or to “shake off” the feelings.

Acting out may consequently make them the target of scapegoating. The other children in the family may become aware of certain challenges or tensions in the family but may be in denial of their existence and inadvertently displace this awareness or problem onto the sibling that is acting out on what they perceive or feel. The other children in essence behave as “model” well-behaved children and generally appear to be happy and content with life. The flipside of this experience is that these siblings might be encouraged by the parents to taunt or bully the sibling who is scapegoated.

Another key aspect for scapegoating to become effective is the parents own denial of the family situation or their blame mentality of the true situation within the family system as a whole. Additionally, this could include the parents own insecurities about managing the situation effectively, or insecurities about qualities and characteristics that they themselves lack but which they perceive in the child that is acting out.

The child who is aware that the family setting is not right consequently is blamed and made the scapegoat for generally anything that goes wrong in the family, including the parents relationship. Children invariably internalise these problems as their fault.


Other reasons that a particular child could be selected by a parent(s) for scapegoating could be that the child reminds the parent in some way of a person he or she doesn’t like, such as their own parents, ex partner or an abuser. It could also be that the child has similar characteristics and traits to the parent, which the parent has not yet accepted within themselves, or the child is just simply different in many aspects from the other siblings.

However, the motivating factor that drives the parent to mistreat and scapegoat their child, further displacing and transferring their responsibility from themselves onto the child, is likely to be at an unconscious level, but this is not always the case. Some parents may be well aware of their reasons for mistreating or enabling one of their children to become a scapegoat for all the familly’s ‘ills’ but may not be able to effectively control or manage their actions due to the underlying drivers and motivators. The parents’ denial additionally aids in maintaining that status quo.

That said, the whole family is affected in some way by the scapegoating process, including the ‘model’ children in the family, signs of which may become more apparent in their adult years.

Different ways that children can be made scapegoats:

  • abuse in a variety of ways including neglect, sexual abuse, physical abuse
  • alienated
  • ostracized
  • bullying
  • taunting/goading
  • or even death itself

If that child leaves the home environment as a young adult or is removed from the home at an early age, the family challenge still remains, and another sibling is then likely to be the target of the parent’s scapegoating, in order to fill the gap or void that has been created. Unless the parent(s) deal with their need to abdicate responsibility for their actions, the transference will continue to be a cycle of oppression within the family setting in particular.