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.
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:
- 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