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5 Ways to Validate Your Child:


First, I want to start by addressing the common question of why validate? There is controversy related to validation. Often people think that if we validate a child’s feelings, it means that we condone their behaviour. I think it’s important to clarify that we can validate our child’s feelings, while setting limits and encouraging a change in behaviour. The goal of validation is not to solve our child’s problem, but to instead focus on building a connection with them during a difficult moment.

Secondly, I want to say that we cannot possibly validate every emotion, situation, trigger or urge that shows up for them. Even if parents validate 10% of the time, it can still influence the relationship between you and your child, as well as their ability to manage emotions. The strategies suggested below come from Emotion Focused Family Therapy (EFFT) which was developed by Dr. Adele Lafrance.

So how can we validate their feelings?

  1. Get rid of saying BUT: You can say the most elegant and kind words to your kid, but as soon as you add the “but you can’t talk to me that way” or “but things will get better”. It can easily invalidate everything you just said. Even saying HOWEVER or ALTHOUGH are discouraged. I encourage you to move the but part of the conversation to when your child’s emotions have calmed down and they are in a better headspace to have these discussions.

  2. Label their emotions: many children and youth struggle to identify their feelings in the moment. We can assist in their ability to identify their emotions by saying things like “I know you are angry right now”, or “it looks like you are nervous about school tomorrow”.

  3. Guessing versus asking questions: When we are in an emotional state of mind, it can be difficult to then have to explain the who, what, when, where, why and how of what happened. So instead of trying to ask questions, try to offer guesses: “I wonder if you’re mad about not being able to have more time on your tablet” or “it’s so frustrating to have to do homework after 6 hours of school”. Children and youth will often tell you when you are wrong. Even if you are wrong, that’s totally okay. When they correct you, it helps you better understand what they are upset about and trying to offer guesses highlights that you are trying to understand where their emotions are coming from. Discussing what led up to the problem is better situated for when their emotions have gone back to baseline.

  4. When trying to validate, avoid offering advice or criticism. Imagine you are driving your car, and someone hits you from behind at a stop light. I imagine that this would bring up lots of different emotions: anger, anxiety, confusion, etc. Let’s imagine you go tell your partner and their first response is “did you move all the way up to the light”, “next time make sure to move out of the way” or “this is why I drive”. Take a moment and reflect on how these responses would make you feel. For myself, this would make me more upset. Before hearing advice it’s better to first have your emotion acknowledged. I would much rather hear “that’s horrible, I am glad you are okay”, or “that must have been scary to have that happen” versus the responses above.

  5. It’s okay to make mistakes: It is important to remember that we cannot respond the way someone needs 100% of the time. When we make mistakes (which will happen because we are all humans) we can always circle back and make amends. An example of a repair after a conflict could be: “I really said the wrong thing yesterday when you were upset, I should have offered support instead of ignoring the problem”. It is hard to acknowledge when we have messed up, but it can lead to stronger bonds when we own up to them. This also models to children that it is okay to make mistakes and own up to them. Owning up to our actions is a way to validate our child’s experience with us as caregivers.

In conclusion, we do not have to validate every emotion that comes up and validating an emotion does not mean that we agree with the behaviour.

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