One of the most common problems parents have when their children are in therapy is that they cannot contact them. Parents want to know what is going on in their teen’s thoughts, yet probing questions are met with silence or resistance.

This is understandable given that teenagers are at a developmental period in which they attempt to gain autonomy by pushing away from their parents. Teens, on the other hand, have their reasons for not confiding in their parents: “they don’t listen,” “they won’t get it,” “they’ll just yell at me.” These are things we hear teens say all the time, despite their parents’ best efforts to engage them.

The most difficult component for parents is probably watching their kids express great distress because it is frightening and upsetting for parents to see their kids suffering. Parents frequently respond to excessive displays of emotion by attempting to problem-solve the emotion away, causing the youngster to cease feeling the emotion by “calming down” or altogether dismissing the emotion. These answers are made with the best of intentions: to keep their child from experiencing pain. As a result, kids do not feel heard and believe that those around them cannot handle what they have to say. So, what should a parent do? Validate!

Incorporate validation into everyday parenting

Although validation is one of the most powerful parenting tools, it is frequently overlooked in traditional behavioral parent training programs. In general, behavioral parent training programs teach parents how to use positive attending skills, active ignoring for minor misbehaviors, and consistent limit setting. While these skills improve the quality of relationships in the home and help children listen better, they are less focused on improving children’s emotion regulation skills.

The ability of a child to regulate emotions influences their relationships with family and friends, school achievement, long-term mental health, and future success. Parents seeking treatment for behavioral issues frequently report that their child is overly sensitive or has strong emotional reactions when compared to siblings or peers of the same age.

Indeed, many mental issues in children, such as Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) and Oppositional Defiant Disorder (ODD), are linked to more intense emotions and significant difficulty regulating those emotions. Children who struggle with emotion dysregulation are more likely to develop additional mental health issues, such as anxiety or depression.

By validating their children’s emotional experiences, parents can help them learn how to deal with the important emotions that frequently lead to tantrums, meltdowns, and family conflict. One of the most important parenting tasks is to teach children to self-regulate, as emotion regulation is a critical life skill that predicts positive outcomes.

Of course, validating your child’s feelings does not imply that you agree with or condone the actions your child takes. It simply communicates to your child that you understand their feelings and that it is normal for them to experience those feelings. It allows your child to express their emotions non-judgmentally, safely, and without ignoring or pushing them away.

Why it is important to validate your children

Validation aids in the de-escalation of emotionally charged situations by allowing your child to feel heard, understood, and accepted. When children’s feelings are validated, the intensity of their emotions decreases. Reduced emotion intensity allows them to move through the meltdown faster and opens your child up to problem-solving or pushing through a difficult situation or task. Instead of allowing emotion to drive the behavioral response, your child can better decide what to do next.

Validation teaches children how to effectively label their own emotions and become more in tune with their bodies, resulting in increased emotional intelligence. When children can say, “I’m angry” or “I’m so frustrated,” they are better able to communicate their internal experience to those around them, rather than lash out with words, acting aggressively, or throwing a tantrum. When they can express their emotions in this manner, the adults around them are more likely to remain calm and offer assistance. This makes children feel more accepted and supported, which helps to strengthen relationships and promotes healthy self-esteem and self-worth.

Validation aids in the development of frustration tolerance in children. When working on a challenging task, many children can become frustrated. When you validate how difficult it is and praise your child for persevering, they are more likely to continue.

Finally, validating children encourages them to have more compassion and empathy for others, which can improve the quality of their relationships with others.

Validating adolescent emotions

Validation is an excellent tool for encouraging your adolescent to talk to and communicate with you more openly. Validation shows your teen that you want to hear what he or she has to say and that you can take it. Validation can also be used to de-escalate high-conflict situations. When teenagers are furious and upset, they typically calm down when people actively listen to them rant without interrupting or arguing that they should feel differently or calm down. Teens can also use validation to understand and accept their own feelings and trust that what they are feeling is normal. If a kid’s environment invalidates his or her expression of emotions, the kid learns that what he or she is feeling is incorrect. As a result, there is even more constant emotional dysregulation, low self-esteem, and seeking approval of emotions from other sources. In the end, validation may strengthen not only your relationship with your kid but also their relationship with themselves.

We will definitely encounter difficulties and blunders as we attempt to begin applying validation. Although this may be frustrating, validation is a skill that can be learned with perseverance. During this process, be kind to yourself and validate your own emotions. Parents, too, require validation!

How do we unintentionally invalidate our children?

If we want to help our children effectively, we must first understand how parents unintentionally invalidate their children. We always keep in mind that any time a child’s emotional experience is ignored, judged, or rejected, it is referred to as invalidation. Every parent has unintentionally invalidated their child’s feelings. Many things that upset children appear trivial to adults, or the emotions can appear out of proportion to the situation. It can be difficult for an adult to put themselves in the shoes of a child at times.

When parents try to calm their children, they unintentionally invalidate them. It’s difficult to see your child suffer and struggle. Parents will occasionally intervene to reassure their children that everything will be fine. Parents are also too quick to solve problems or suggest coping strategies. It can be difficult for parents to tolerate seeing their child in distress, so they try to push the problematic feelings away. Validation is not about solving problems or changing our children’s emotional experiences. It is about allowing your child to sit with and acknowledge their emotions.

Children are sometimes punished for their emotions or told that they are overreacting. When parents get nervous and tell their child to “just calm down,” they are only agitating them further. Dismissing a child’s emotions as “acting like a baby” or “no reason to be angry” can make a child feel judged or rejected for their emotional experience, which they frequently have little control over.

When a child is repeatedly told that their internal emotional experience is incorrect, they feel less trusting and more out of control about their own internal experience, which can have long-term negative consequences. It can also harm a child’s relationship with their parents.

What can I do to validate my child?

Validating your child’s emotions can be challenging at times. Often, a child’s distress causes parent distress, and it can be difficult to respond calmly at the moment. It can also be difficult to ignore your child’s behavioral response. This is especially true when a child exhibits aggressive or destructive behavior, and in this case, ensuring safety takes precedence.

Once safety has been restored, validation can take place. When their child has a strong emotional reaction to a situation or stimuli, parents can try to validate them. Being present with your child demonstrates to them that you care about them and that their emotions are not too big for you to handle. Sitting calmly nearby shows your child that you are present and ready to assist when they are calm and ready to move on. It also demonstrates how to remain calm in stressful situations. Another way to validate is to reflect back on their thoughts or feelings.

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