Contributed By: Austin Raines, LCMHCA

The term, “validation,” has become increasingly popular, and its benefits can be applied in any relationship you find yourself in. At its core, offering emotional validation is one of the most important pillars in any close relationship. However, over time this word has become frequently misinterpreted and misused. In this post, I want to clarify what validation is, the benefits it can have in the parent-child relationship, and how to use it effectively.

So, what exactly is validation? Simply put, validation is the recognition and acceptance of another person’s internal experience as being valid or understandable. Breaking it down even further, validation means that you can recognize where the other person is coming from, essentially letting them know that you “get it.” Offering validation does not mean agreeing with, supporting, or even liking what the other person is saying. It simply means recognizing that the other person’s internal experiences are understandable and real. Offering validation revolves around a person’s feelings and emotions, but we are not always approving of a person’s behaviors.

We now must refocus on why offering validation is a crucial element in the parent-teen relationship. The impact of parents validating their children cannot be understated. Properly providing validation plays an important role in shaping a child’s emotional well-being, self-esteem, and overall development. Conveying validation creates a sense of security and trust within the relationship, leading to the child gaining the ability to handle feeling intense emotions in present and future situations.

When parents validate their children, they create a safe and supportive environment for emotional expression. Children feel free to share their joys, fears, and frustrations without fear of judgment. With open communication, parents can continue to convey a sense of understanding of their child’s emotional intricacies and better respond empathetically, leading to a heightened bond between you and your child.

There are countless benefits that are associated with validating your children. Validation helps teens build a strong sense of self-worth. When parents acknowledge and affirm their child’s experiences, feelings, and achievements, it promotes a sense of self-efficacy and boosts their self-esteem. Validation can also cultivate emotional intelligence in children. By acknowledging their emotions, parents teach their children to recognize and process their own feelings effectively. Creating an increased ability to handle intense emotions equips children with the skills to manage stress and cope with difficult situations.

Now that you have a general baseline knowledge of what validation is and the positives that come with it, it’s important to discuss how to put validation into practice. As parents, it can be incredibly challenging to see your child struggling with whatever life is throwing their way. A very natural response to this is to try and solve the problems that they are facing. Even if the goal is to help your child, when we jump to problem-solving, the act of validation gets lost in the shuffle. A common response parents use is, “Don’t worry about it,” or, “it’s really not that big of a deal,” as a way to calm your child. In reality, this only reinforces beliefs that your child doesn’t feel heard or their problems shouldn’t warrant an emotional reaction.

The key step in displaying validation is not to focus on the situation, the behaviors, or even the words. The goal is to try and focus on the emotion. If your child is angry with you, let your child know that you understand that they are feeling angry with you. This can be difficult as tensions will be high, but remember you don’t have to agree with the message, just focus on the emotion. Everyone is allowed to experience different emotions in situations and arguments; therefore, it’s important to validate those very real emotions that your child is struggling to express.

Key tips for using validation include:

  • Listening and observing what your child has to say
  • Ask intuitive questions
  • Focus on the emotion rather than the words
  • Keep in mind your nonverbals such as your facial expressions
  • Try not to problem-solve immediately

Some very helpful things to say that can convey validation include:

  • “I’d love to hear more about that”
  • “That really does sound like a challenging situation”
  • “It makes total sense why you’re feeling this way”

As I previously mentioned, it is so important to remember that validation does not mean parents must always agree with their children or condone inappropriate behavior. It means acknowledging and focusing on the emotions and experiences while setting appropriate boundaries and guiding them toward a change in behavior. Through this, children can start living a life that more closely aligns with their values and interests.