My parents don’t care!
They never listen to me!
It doesn’t even matter what I say because they’ve already made up their mind!
These are some of the phrases I hear most often from children of all ages in family therapy. Children feel unheard and misunderstood. It’s an extremely common problem in all kinds of families. Meanwhile…
My kid does not listen!
They’re purposefully disrespectful!
Why can’t they just get over it?!
Parents typically come into family therapy feeling defeated, overwhelmed and frustrated. Overall, they’re mostly just fearful of the many what-if’s in their child’s future. The first step in these family dynamics is working on communication and validation.
So What Exactly is Validation?
Validation is interacting and communicating in such a way that your children feel heard and understood. With Validation, you are letting them know that they are important to you and what they are saying and feeling are important. You are letting them know that you want to understand where they are coming from and what their behavior is trying to communicate.
Validation is acknowledging your child’s feelings and their truth. For example, if a child is really anxious to go to school and is trying to get out of going, you may validate that you understand that they are anxious and how difficult it must be. By validating their truth and feelings, you are letting them know that you understand but you are not saying it’s okay for them to stay home. You will still encourage them and get them to school on time while at the same time acknowledging their misgivings.
Validation is becoming curious about your child’s behavior so you can understand the function of their conduct and then help your child change their actions to be more effective.
Validation is NOT:
Validation is not reinforcing or agreeing with maladaptive or ineffective behaviors, nor is it a lack of boundaries or structure. For example, when a child is frustrated with his younger brother for taking his toy, the child may hit his brother. Clearly, the older brother was angry enough to do that, so you can first validate, I can see you are very angry about your toy, then set structure/boundaries: But it is not okay to hit your brother, and there will be a consequences if it happens again. Use this time to help your child with their anger and explain what they CAN do if they are angry, not just what they CANNOT do.
Remember, validation is not problem solving! When parents immediately try to solve a problem, many times they are too focused on a possible solution to listen to and understand what their child is feeling. While the parent may have a great resolution, they may have also skipped over the most important thing: their child’s emotions. Remember the problem is not the problem – the feelings are the problem.