Why is it important to validate your child’s feelings?
It sounds like it might be complicated but it’s really quite simple. It is recognizing the child’s feelings and acknowledging those feelings as true and important. It does not mean that you are approving of any behavior that is being displayed as a result of the feelings being experienced and this is part of why it’s so important. As a parent, you help to improve your child’s ability to self-regulate by distinguishing for them (and for yourself!) the differences between feelings and behaviors. This can be extremely challenging to practice as the initial response that parents typically have is to correct the behaviors, which usually occurs through lectures and consequences.
When children are hurting and or feeling intense emotion the absolute best way to help them self-regulate is to validate what they are experiencing. By doing so, you provide your child with something invaluable: the acknowledgment that someone else understands what they are experiencing so they are not alone. You are providing a safe environment to work through their feelings and the situation.
When a child is experiencing a feeling and they are told they should not or may not feel that way it creates internal conflict, which can lead to symptoms related to anxiety and depression. It also can create a divide in the relationship, with a child feeling that it is not safe to share their feelings, leading to them keeping their feelings to themselves.
Children look to their parents for comfort and to understand how they are supposed to feel in situations, parents are always modeling reactions and ways to cope when something occurs. Having a conversation about your experiences and acknowledging experiencing situations that are similar normalizes the feelings and experience and prevents children from feeling bad about themselves for the way they are feeling.
A few key points to practice:
- Maintain a non-judgmental, safe environment for your child to process emotions.
- Acknowledge the feelings and emotions being expressed, not just through the words being said but also by describing the behavior being expressed.
- Assist with putting words to feelings and emotions that are not being verbalized.
- Provide support as feelings are explored and understanding is developed as to the cause of the feelings and the reaction.
- Normalize the experience. If feelings do not match the situation acknowledge that it happens at times and if feelings are really intense acknowledge that as well.
- Address behavior issues by setting limits about what types of behaviors are allowed and suggest alternative behaviors for next time.