Why It Is So Important For Parents to Validate Their Children

Validation is a way of letting someone know we understand him or her.  Being understood is an essential ingredient to feeling connected and supported.  When someone important to us understands us, their hearing us helps us to tune into ourselves and accept our emotions as real and meaningful.  This ultimately supports the growth of self-compassion and the capacity to be empathic with others.

We certainly can notice the difference when someone says to us, “Well, you could have done this or that,” as we share an experience that lead to disappointment compared to the response, “Wow, it is so hard that it didn’t turn out how you wanted it to.” While the first comment may be offered with the intention of being helpful, it doesn’t feel the same as the second comment. Just by noticing the difference in how these two responses make us feel about ourselves, the relationship, or others, we can appreciate how powerful validation can be.

So, what is validation? Validation is simply the act of letting someone else know his or her experience is real.  Given their experience, skills, and circumstances of the moment, their perspective is understandable.  Their experience is real for them, just like our experience is real for us. While this may sound straightforward or easy to do, it can get very difficult at times to do as a parent. As parents, we see our role as protector and teacher as essential to helping our children grow into successful, happy, and healthy individuals. Consequently, there can be a clash between these two forces. The conflict between slowing down and walking in the shoes of our child who are naïve, impulsive, evolving in their ability to understand and manage their emotions while also wanting to be a “good parent” who directs, teaches, and prepares a child to face the world can be challenging to navigate. Sometimes, we have the urge to just jump in and rescue or solve the problem for our children. To sort this out, it is helpful to clarify what validation IS and IS NOT:

What validation is:

  • Listening quietly. Really listening!  Silence the noise in your head.
  • Honoring what your child is saying or expressing about their experience.
  • Communicating that you can understand your child’s experience. Restate what your child is saying.
    1. If you get it right, they will nod their head, calm down, or elaborate further, feeling safer to share their experience
    2. If you get it wrong, you will get more information in their effort to get you to get it!
  • Being curious about all the factors that contribute to the experience.

What validation is not:

  • Agreeing
  • Judging
  • Correcting
  • Teaching
  • Arguing why their experience is wrong

Sometimes, as a parent, it is particularly difficult to validate. When we feel like our child is being disrespectful or acting in a way we don’t respect, validating them may be the last thing we want to do.  Being unappreciated by our child at moments leaves us wanting to be seen or understood.

So, here are a couple of guideposts to help you when you, as the parent, feel unseen:

  • Don’t expect your child to validate you. That is the role of a partner, friend, therapist, colleague, or another adult.
  • Consider validating yourself. Yes, you are working hard, have good intentions, and are sometimes exhausted or overextended. Your intentions don’t always line up with your actions.
  • Remember all the times when you have been able to show up as you wish.
  • Take care of yourself. Self-care is essential to being able to parent effectively.

As humans, being seen and understood is the basis for feeling safe and connected.  We as parents have understandable drive to nurture and teach our children. These are essential parental functions.  However, sometimes our focus on teaching or correcting our kids can lead us to miss what our child’s experience is in the moment.  And yet, our job is better accomplished by letting our children know that their challenges can be understood.  After all, it is the fact that they are evolving beings that makes their missteps part of their journey.  When we understand and validate our child’s experience, we make it safe for them to understand themselves and then be open to learning and growing, our true goal as parents.

About the Author

Debra Kessler, Psy.D. Debra Kessler, Psy.D. is a licensed clinical psychologist who specializes in the care of children and their families. Dr. Kessler was awarded her Bachelor of Science in Nursing, graduating Magna Cum Laude from Vanderbilt University. While working as an RN in Pediatric Intensive Care, she pursued a Masters Degree in Pediatrics from UCLA to further her skills in caring for children. After a career in nursing that included bedside nursing, Kessler chose to focus her attention on addressing the emotional needs of children and their families by obtaining a Doctorate in Clinical Psychology at California School of Professional Psychology. Her post-doctorate work was done with Child Development Institute treating autistic and developmentally challenged preschool and young children and at Reiss-Davis Child Study center addressing the needs of school children, adolescents and their families. She has contributed to Infant/Child Mental Health, Early Intervention, and Relationship-Based Therapies: A Neurorelational Framework for Interdisciplinary Practice (Lillas &Turnbull 2009). Dr. Kessler has an active practice in Montrose, California. In a family centered manner, she treats a range of developmental and emotional issues including adoption/attachment difficulties, bipolar disorder, anxiety, depression, autism/Asperger’s syndrome, ADHD, learning challenges, regulatory difficulties and other issues that interfere with children reaching their potential.

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One Comment

Katarina Yeo

How old should a child be when the parents teach them to validate themselves? I found myself still seeking validation from my parents even as an adult. When I grew tired of their criticism, I stopped telling them things and created boundaries just so I wouldn’t have to endure their judgment anymore.

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