Validating a child’s feelings is one of the most important tools we have for supporting emotional development and managing big feelings in the moment.
When we validate a child’s feelings we help them to feel heard and we let them know their feelings matter, leading to a stronger sense of self-worth.
When we validate how a child feels we are telling them “I get you…I understand”. They know we have their backs, we respect their inner worlds, and we love them even when their feelings are too much for them to handle. This builds a stronger connection between parent and child they can lead to a more trusting and harmonious relationship.
When we validate a child’s feelings in the middle of a tantrum, meltdown, or during a moment of challenging behaviour, we help them to link how they are feeling with their behavioural response. This means we can help them, over time, to develop new ways of managing and communicating their big feelings.
Naming the emotions a child is experiencing directly affects the brain. It reduces activity in our emotional centres, including the amygdala. There is a great saying, “a happy brain is an open brain”. Communicating with a child in a state of stress or distress is unlikely to go well if we try to reason with them in that moment. We need to connect first, validate, and then we can enable their rational brain to kick into gear.
Validation removes the battle. When we say to a child, “No, you can’t watch tv right now because it’s nearly bedtime and you’ve already watched enough today” we enter into an invitation to argue back. By saying, “oh I’m so sorry you wanted to watch tv and there isn’t time now, that must be so disappointing”, we place the focus on their feelings, not on the conflict.
To be effective, validating of feelings has to stay super simple. This isn’t about saying, “I know you’re feeling frustrated, but you can’t hit your brother”. It’s about saying, “Are you ok? I saw you hit your brother and I’m wondering if you are feeling really frustrated for that to have happened?” Once the child has calmed down and is feeling open and ready, then we can start talking about what other strategies are better than hitting!
Validation means being brave enough to truly recognise what the child is experiencing. Sometimes they might be feeling jealous, or they might be feeling extreme anger. We need to let them know all feelings are valid, otherwise they will think they aren’t acceptable – meaning they will find less healthy ways of covering them up and they will have a lower sense of self-worth.
We can still say no to behaviour…”I see you are incredibly angry right now. I can’t let you hurt your sister, but I absolutely want to help you. Can I offer you a hug or some time sitting with me while we figure this out?”. We are not making light of the behaviour, we are letting them know we understand the feelings and we will help them find better ways of handling things.
Validation can be used in almost any situation involving big feelings – not wanting to do something (get dressed, go to bed, brush their teeth), tantrums, sibling conflicts…the list is endless! It is one of the most powerful tools we have for supporting a child’s well-being and making family life more harmonious.