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MUST READ: How to Emotionally Validate Children/Teens

Guess Post Alert!!! Many of you who follow us may remember that we interviewed health therapist, and "Dating With Dev" Site Creator Devon Estes, and it was BRILLIANT. She's been so gracious to share her expertise on an article that most parents and mentors will benefit from! Show her some love! ~ Capt SistaGurl

By Devon Estes M.S.,LPC

As a mental health therapist for teens and their families I find myself teaching emotional validation a lot. For the teens I spend much of their treatment expanding their emotional vocabulary, guiding them into identifying their emotions, helping them identify their needs associated with their emotions, and supporting them into acting on those needs in a healthy productive manner.
For their parents, I’m often highlighting the connection between validation/invalidation and the issues they experience with the child, as well as how to help support the child navigate self-validation.  I also find myself debunking the myth that validation is agreeing with or giving into your child. IT IS NOT!
Validation is simply saying I see you, I hear you, I understand.  Imagine this: you purchase an item online and the quality of the material is not what you expect.  You are aware of their final sale policy, but you call customer service to express your concerns with the item.   Before you can finish giving your feedback the customer service rep cuts you off reminds you of their policy and hangs up.
Now, you may withdraw and just say you will never purchase another item from them and that be the end of it. Or you might escalate your concerns by leaving a negative Google review, reporting them to their manager, or the BBB and so. All of this because you did not feel seen, heard, or validated by the customer service rep. No one likes to feel like their feelings don’t matter. No one likes to be made to feel like their feelings aren’t real. You will do one of two things, withdraw or escalate. The same is true of our kids.
Here are some of the common negative results of parental invalidation and self-invalidation that your child might display:
Parental Invalidation
  • Disengagement in the parent-child relationship: withdraws communication, distances themselves from the family
  • Acting out in the form rebellion
  • Escalating through exaggerated expressions of invalidated emotion (i.e. temper tantrums, making bad situations worse)
  • Retaliating against the caregiver by acting in a way that will make the caregiver feel the invalidated emotion they are experiencing.  (i.e. finding a way to hurt the caregiver because they feel their hurt as been ignored.)
Self-Invalidation
  • Peer pressured into high risk behaviors (i.e. rule breaking, sexual experiences before they are ready, substance use)
  • Loss of self-identity, abandon taught morals and values
  • Staying in toxic relationships with peers or significant others
  • Persistent state of emotional confusion
  • Indecisiveness and poor decision making
  • Seeking approval or affirmation from others

One of the most powerful parenting tools is modeling.  By validating your kids’ emotions, you also give them permission to validate themselves.  Emotional self-validation is essentially saying, “I know what I feel, and it is OK to feel this way even if others disagree.”  This level of security within themselves makes the child more independent, helps them avoid peer/adult pressures, increases the likelihood that the child feels safe to express their feelings to the caregiver, and it also increases their natural instincts.  
From a spiritual perspective, we are all given the gift of discernment. This gift often presents itself as a gut feeling in the absence of evidence. This helps us to know if a person or situation is safe for us or not. Kids and teens rely on this to survive in the absence of their caregivers.  
When we are made to feel as though our emotions are false or are unimportant, it robs us of our internal wisdom and causes us to rely on any external sources to tell us what or how we should feel. For kids and teens this could be that negative friend that leads to sneak out, go to a party, drink alcohol, smoke a cigarette, steal something from the classroom, etc.
Emotional self-validation is not a new age fluffy psychotherapy parental technique. it is literally an invaluable survival skill for our young people.  In the age of social media and technology where our young people are inundated with external influence, we need to train them with survival skills beyond domestication.  As they head into this academic school year, let’s shape them to be secure within themselves and independent thinkers.
Here are a few ways you can increase emotional self-validation for your kids and teens
Be observant and nonjudgmental:  Call out the inconsistencies in what they say or do, verbalize what you observe about their body language. “Hey I know you said everything is fine but you’re tapping your foot and I only see you do that when you are really upset.  What’s going on?”
Undivided attention: make eye contact, focus on them only, active listening skills, repeat back to them what you hear or understand, allow to talk without interruption.
Keep it about them, this isn’t your time:  Don’t share how you would feel or handle a situation, don’t share your emotions about the situation until they are completely finished (ask if it’s ok) or maybe not at all in the moment.  Let them have the floor.
Designate opportunities for them to share their feelings about little things and they will also share about big things
Pretend to be the best customer service agent of all time:  Thinking about to our original scenario, imagine that the rep says something to the tune of “Wow.  I can see why that would be upsetting. I can tell you are grossly unhappy with the quality of our merchandise.  Unfortunately, we are unable to refund your money but I will personally deliver your concerns to our senior QA specialist and design team.”  Now translate into something for you kiddo “Sweetheart I get it. You’re pissed with me for taking away your phone. You have every right to feel the way you do.  Unfortunately, the consequence for not turning in your homework on time still stands. I love you.”
Note:  You never validate inappropriate expressions of emotion. If your kid is slamming doors, yelling, cursing, you might say something like “You can choose to express yourself appropriately and I will listen to you and address your concerns or you can choose to continue to behave inappropriately and  I won’tl listen to you and you will increase your consequences. The choice is yours.”

Give it a try!!! Expect some resistance in the beginning but remain consistent and you will see a drastic change in your relationship with your kid and their relationship with their peers.

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