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Validating Emotions

Validating our child's emotions is incredibly important (more about what it is, why we do it and how we do it, later) but it can also feel incredibly tricky as an adult, especially if, as a child, your own emotions were not validated.

Imagine you are 5yrs old and have woken from a bad dream, you tell your parent who says "Don't be so silly, go back to bed", or alternatively they might say "That must have been scary, how do you feel now? You're safe". Which response would have made you feel better? Which response would have made you feel understood? Imagine now that you are 3yrs old and have recently gained a new sibling. People tell you that you should feel excited, but actually you feel scared because your sibling is noisy when they cry, you maybe feel forgotten because the new baby takes up a lot of time and attention. These feelings are hard to articulate, but wouldn't it be better to have someone listen, rather than dismiss your feelings as silly, or selfish?

  • So, what it is emotion validation?

Emotion validation is a process by which you take a moment to listen to your child when they are feeling emotional, and acknowledge how they are feeling.

  • Why do we do it?

We do it to normalise all emotions. All emotions are normal, natural and safe, and we should allow our children to express each and every emotion that they feel.

  • How do we do it?

When your child is dysregulated (and this can also be via positive emotions such as excitement and happiness) and they explain how they feel to you, take a moment to pause and focus on what they've said. I'll give you a real life example:

It was time for my youngest to have a bath, I told him that it was time to turn off the TV and to come upstairs.

He replied "No! I don't want a bath, I'm never, ever having a bath, ever again!"

I paused, thought for a moment and said to him "You're cross because I told you to turn off the TV and you were enjoying that show, I understand that's really difficult for you", to which said "YES I AM!" and off he stomped to go and have his bath.

I had listened to what he had told me, and understood the emotion that was fuelling this response. I verbalised it for him and in doing so he felt heard, understood and validated.

Validating emotions is a really simple process that only needs one or two sentences to diffuse a situation. However here's a really common mistake:

It can be really tempting to jump straight in and explain away a child's feelings. I could have started telling my son about why he needed a bath that night, for example. However, doing this would have felt dismissive to him, which would have made him feel unheard and misunderstood - which is the exact opposite of my intention!

Here's the key: You don't need to agree with their emotion, but you cannot deny that this is how they are feeling. All you need to do is name it and tell them it's normal to feel that way. The next step is really important though...

You can validate your child's emotions whilst also holding your boundary. In the example I gave you of my son, had he not come to the bathroom himself, I would have picked him up and taken him there.

Remember that gentle, positive parenting is not permissive. We cannot allow our children to behave in accordance to their biggest feelings. Emotions are never the problem, the behaviours that come about due to the emotions can be. If your child becomes verbally or physically aggressive you can say firmly "No! I will not allow you to scream/kick at me. You are angry because I told you to turn the TV off and now it is time for your bath."

As I said at the beginning of this post, validating our children's emotions can feel counter intuitive, however if we push beyond this uncertainty we have the opportunity to show our children that all emotions are normal and healthy, and that none should be bottled up, because all of your feelings matter.

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