Validation is an important part of raising children. It opens up the lines of communication between parents and their children. Validation does not necessarily mean you agree with your child, only that you have heard what she is saying, and appreciate whatever emotions or thoughts she’s expressing. It is a supportive response showing empathy and understanding.
When your child falls down and scrapes his knee and starts to cry, it’s not helpful to tell him that it doesn’t hurt and it is not that bad. If it didn’t hurt, he wouldn’t be crying. Now you may not think it hurts as much as the reaction your child is having, but he thinks it hurts. If you were to validate him, your first response would be, “Wow, that must really hurt because you are really crying.” It’s just restating the obvious with no judgment. No judgment. That’s important. Afterwards, you can say, “It doesn’t look so bad. Let’s go wash it off and put a bandage on it. I can put some medicine on it to ease the pain, too.”
Validation opens up the highway for communication. It means you are listening, and will listen, to anything your child tells you. It means that you respect her feelings and that you’ll be there when she needs your help. It means you want to be a part of her life and want to understand the trials and tribulations of growing up in the 21st century.
Jenny was thirteen years old and very upset about the breakup with her boyfriend. They didn’t actually go out on dates, but just “hung out” at school and texted each other. When they broke up, she was filled with grief and despair. In my head I was thinking, Oh my goodness, you are only thirteen. There will be lots more boys in the future; this is no big deal. I was even laughing (but only in my mind) about all the drama.
However, what I said to Jenny was, “Oh my goodness, how awful you must feel. I get it. Tell me what happened.” Had I said what I was thinking, she would have shut down. By validating her feelings, she felt heard and began to talk about what her experience was like and how she was feeling. I was then able to tell her that I understood that first loves are important and that she will have many more and each time she will learn something about love and relationships. Now she was able to hear me “fix it” and accept it, because I had listened and heard her first.
In this age of texting, tweeting, and Instagramming, there seems to be a lack of human contact. We cannot hear empathy from a text. We cannot feel cared for from a tweet; and nothing is private. When we sit with our children, however, and listen to their tone and they hear ours, understanding and learning takes place, and so does trust.
Having your child feel that he can tell you anything and you will listen calmly and be helpful will help prevent problems that often occur when there is little trust. Children that feel that they can share their problems, questions, fears, and the like are more likely to avoid the pitfalls of peer pressure, bullying, alcohol and drug experimentation, and sexual experimentation. Knowing that you will be listening without judgment gives a child the confidence he needs to confide in you. It will also increase his self-esteem and his ability to stand up for himself.
In this busy world, where we send our children off to school, go to work, pick them up at aftercare, make dinner, make sure their homework is done and get them ready for bed, there is little time left for sitting and talking. Even if you only have 15 minutes to sit and talk with your child, set that time aside, to listen and be there, to validate and help, to let your child know that you are ready to help regardless of the issue.
Turn off your cell phone, get off the internet, shut the TV off, put down your book, and give your child your full attention. Let your child know that this is her time to be with you. Don’t ask her how her day went; don’t ask her how school is going; just tell her that this is her time to talk about anything she wants to talk about. Even if she has nothing to talk about, continue to sit with her, as this is the time you have set aside to be with her and letting her know she is important to you.
If you get up to do the dishes or the laundry, you are sending the wrong message. You are telling your child that you can always find something else to do. The message you want to send is that there is nothing more important than sitting with her, even in silence.