Validation is crucial for building healthy relationships. This word encompasses the simple act of listening and understanding another person, which communicates that you “get” what they might be going through. In other words, validation is reflecting what another person might be feeling, and responding to them with empathy and acceptance.
Learning how to make someone feel validated is a powerful way to create a safe and supportive environment for any relationship. For instance, for parents, when your child comes to you with a problem or complaint, a common response is to go directly into offering solutions by saying something like: “you could do this… or that…,” which may seem helpful, however, this is not what validation is about.
Instead of getting into problem-solving mode, parents who validate their children’s experience express curiosity about what their child is feeling, without judgment. This can help the child feel heard and open up more to their parents. If you are a parent, try to pay attention to how you normally respond when your child is upset. Instead of launching into a teaching moment, take a step back to say something like: “wow, this situation must have been very frustrating,” then pause and see how this approach plays out.
On top of an emotional response to validation, researchers have also found that people respond in a physiological way to validation. According to the study, when individuals use validating statements like, “I would feel frustrated, too,” as opposed to invalidating statements such as, “there’s no need to get upset,” heart rates slow down. Researchers also find that children who are validated are more satisfied regarding their relationship with their parents.
Although an invalidating statement might be said with good intentions (“there’s no need to get upset”), they can have a negative impact on children’s emotional dysregulation (or in common terms, “acting out”) and cause youth to become more reactive rather than calm.
Here are some strategies that parents (and anyone, really) can use to practice validation.
- Take their perspective: Try to see things from your child’s perspective. What does the experience feel like to them? Perhaps hunger or tiredness is making them feel irritable.
- Avoid judgment: Try to set strict values aside for the moment and simply try to understand where the other person is coming from.
- Recognize the other’s emotions: Connect with your own feelings by asking yourself how you would feel if you were in the other person’s position. Ask questions for clarity and to enhance your own understanding.
- Communicate your understanding of their emotions: Rather than starting off with a phrase beginning with “at least…” or “well, of course they are wrong!” try mirroring back the emotions bubbling up in your child (or in the other person) by saying something like “wow, that sounds hard,” or “how frustrating! Tell me more about it.”