By Joseph Sacks, LCSW
It can be unhealthy or disruptive to allow your child to do whatever he or she wants whenever he or she wants. You have to limit his or her behavior for everyone’s safety and well-being. However, your child can and should be able to feel anything he or she needs or wants to feel. Feelings are involuntary and automatic. We cannot control them and they are not the result of choice. Therefore, we should not be held responsible for how we feel, even if it is uncomfortable to someone else. You must accept and validate your child’s feelings if you wish to foster greater emotional health and resiliency.
Why It’s Important To Know How To Validate Your Child’s Feelings
Not accepting your child’s feelings causes those feelings to be repressed, which can result in a host of behavior problems and even emotional disorders. If she says she doesn’t like something, try to go along with and entertain her feelings so that she can feel safe letting her feelings flow naturally. Sharing your feelings comfortably and without fear is the definition of emotional health, and this concept applies to both children and adults.
Strong feelings need to be felt, recognized and validated in what’s called the interpersonal venue. That means a person only achieves a healthy resolution of his or her emotional experience when another person accepts and understands it. When your child feels an emotion, he or she is unsure of the parameters of the feeling and what it really means. As a result, he or she may not be able to process the feeling and can become emotionally stopped up. Only when someone else reflects the emotion back does your child perceive the feeling clearly so he or she can come to understand it, control it, overcome it, and put it behind them. For example, “I don’t like when he does that…I…” “It sounds like you’re angry.” “Yes, I’m angry!” Now your child’s feeling has a label – anger. It’s been conceptualized and can thus be manipulated at will by his or her consciousness. It is amazing how much you can accomplish when you validate your child’s feelings!
Learning How to Validate Your Child’s Feelings
So many problems can be resolved when you listen to and acknowledge your child’s feelings. Until a feeling is validated it festers in the heart and causes all kinds of stress and unpleasantness. Your child may not understand what’s going on. It’s like he or she is trying to look at the expression on his or her own face. Your child needs the mirror of another person to reflect what they are feeling so they can see it. This is called empathy, and it is when you show your child you know how he or she feels.
The feeling of acceptance and validation is the great benefit of good psychotherapy, whether talk therapy with adults or play therapy with children. The therapist does what’s called reflective listening, echoing what he or she hears so the client can realize, “Yes that’s how I feel! Now I understand why I’m so upset.” The client sees the whole feeling, where it’s coming from, how it’s impacting them and how to manage it.
Therefore, when a child expresses a feeling, need, want or desire, we need to show him or her that we accept it and it’s OK for him or her to feel that way. We need to reflect back that feeling so he or she can understand it. “Oh you’re feeling frustrated because you can’t have another ice cream!” In addition, we need to observe and anticipate when our children are feeling a strong emotion that they are unable to express, and help them to get it out and put it into words. There are thousands of words for different feelings, and your child may not know many of them. It is thus impossible for him or her to conceptualize and then process these difficult or confusing emotions. Try to make suggestions to your child as to what he or she may be feelings and see if that rings a bell. When you learn to validate your child’s feelings, you can create peace in the home and prevent many misbehaviors and crises.
For more information on communicating with your child, I invite you to explore the rest of my interesting blog, the specialty pages on this website, or download one of my informative free reports for parents.
If you need help with how to validate your child’s feelings and would like guidance or treatment from a child psychotherapist in lower Manhattan,
you can call me at 646-681-1707 for a free 15-minute consultation. I look forward to speaking with you!