In every close relationship there is potential for differing perspectives and high emotions from time to time. This includes the parent-child relationship. You and your child are bound to disagree from time to time, and your child is bound to have moments of intense negative emotion. How you handle both of these situations has a significant impact on the type of conversations you will have with your child, now and in the future. A key parenting strategy to subdue conflict and/or intense emotions is validation.
What is Validation?
Validation is an interpersonal skill that can lead to an acceptance of differing opinions and reduce the suffering of your child; it is expressing to your child that you can see things from their perspective, even when you may not agree with it. Validation is not agreement, but rather a demonstration of acceptance and understanding of your child’s perspective and emotions.
Why is Validation Important?
Validation will lower the intensity of the emotions your child is experiencing. Lowering emotional intensity increases the likelihood they will continue to engage in the conversation. What is fabulous about lowering the emotional intensity of the conversation is that when we are less distressed our conversations are more realistic and accurate. In other words, the more you validate your child, the more likely you will understand their perspective, which makes it easier to validate them. Validation also communicates to your child that you understand them, and that their experiences make sense, which strengthens your relationship and promotes emotional well-being.
How Do I Validate My Child?
If you are having a particularly difficult time understanding your child’s perspective, try to find a “kernel of truth” in what they are saying, and acknowledge it. Even if you don’t agree with your child’s behaviour, you can validate the feeling that led to that behaviour. For example, after finding your child up late at night still texting to their friends you might say something like, “I understand that your friends are great at reassuring you and making you feel happy.” If your initial validation is sufficient to reduce your child’s defensiveness, you can move on to expressing your concerns or opinions. However, if your child continues to respond with emotional intensity, you will need to continue with validation. If your child is highly emotionally reactive or struggling with mental health difficulties, you may need to wait to express your concerns until a later and quieter time. Parents often mistakenly feel that they must correct or levy a consequence the moment a misbehaviour is observed, and doing so is not always wise or required.
The steps to take in order to validate your child include: 1) actively listen to them, 2) be careful not to communicate invalidation, particularly nonverbally, 3) try to determine which words best reflect your child’s emotions, 4) communicate this emotion without judgement, 5) be tolerant of their reactions and behaviours, and 6) continue to convey that you are taking their perspective seriously.
What is Invalidation?
Invalidation is any comment or gesture that communicates to your child that their emotions, thoughts or behaviours do not make sense or are uninteresting. Being dismissive and uninterested are forms of invalidation. Be careful not to express invalidation, particularly when you are feeling frustrated or tired.