When we are small, it is often our role models or parents who validate our behaviour. When our parents acknowledge what we are feeling and validate these emotions as okay, we feel seen and heard.
- Hearable/ vocal
- Worthy and valid
As humans, being seen, acknowledged and understood gives us a sense of belonging, an emotional and physical feeling of safety and connectedness. Knowing one is validated is vital for our emotional evolution.
However, when we grow up with many experiences unvalidated or misunderstood by our parents we can feel unworthy, alienated and different - without a sense of belonging. This may be because of circumstances or a lack of awareness/ parenting skills from our guardians.
Children generalise everything beause they are building short-cuts and schemas in their brains. Children make assumptions and have to have a ‘why’ answer for everything to help them to make sense of a big world. They do not know that what adults say to them is not concrete truth. Before the age of six, a child does not analyse what adults say, they do not have the cognitive ability. In fact, they are very black and white and spin every situation to be about them personally. Young children read correction, dismissal, ignorance, neglect and lack of validation as, 'It must be me. I must not be good enough.' When parents don't validate their efforts, a child interprets this to mean that they are not enough, or 'Not a Valuable Person.'
How many children blame themselves for their parents separating?
When we have a limiting belief set in our minds that we are not valued, it creates a domino effect throughout our lives. Low self-esteem, self-sabotaging behaviours, depression and anxiety are particularly common adult symptoms of a low-self-worth belief system that we have constructed as children. We often don't remember when we made it up either.
It is not the job of children to validate unhappy parents either. That is a therapist's job.
What validation is not: Agreeing, Judging, Correcting (or Punishing), or Teaching. Nor is it arguing why someone's experience is wrong. Children are naive, impulsive and sometimes naughty, but they are often acting out because something they have wanted validation for has not eventuated. While it is true, that as parents, we don't want to validate bad behaviour, if we back-track to the trigger event before the behaviour, we will find the answers. If a child feels belittled, unvalidated, shamed, fearful, vulnerable etcetera., they may act out in anger or frustration. They often don't know how to express what they are feeling, so anger is a common reaction. But if a child's experience is validated at the time they need it, the negative behaviour is unlikely to eventuate.
What validation is: Active listening (Really listening. Repeating back what the child is saying" "So, I am hearing that you....." Then being curious and asking questions to get more information.). Honouring what the child is saying. Communicating your understanding and asking if you have got it right.
Sometimes, it is easier for kids to write down what they are feeling if they can’t formulate the words. This is why many teenagers like to keep diaries. Our job as parents is to help our children feel that their challenges are understood. Even missteps are part of the journey and that is alright.
Remember, children are like little sponges - watching you for how you parent, how you manage stress and conflict and how you validate them and your own achievements. They will model their parenting style after yours. When we understand and validate our child’s experience we make it safe for them to understand and validate themselves.