Validate AND parent your child

Parenting is hard! The various responsibilities a parent juggles throughout their child’s life feels endless at times. This can make ensuring your child feels heard and understood while maintaining your rules and limits seem almost impossible. Luckily, there is something that you can do that helps you achieve all these goals – validation.

Validation: What is it?

It is finding the truth in the other person’s perspective. It communicates that their thoughts, feelings, and actions make sense within a particular situation. Validation is frequently confused with reassurance, compliments, or praise. While any of these responses may be well intentioned, they can lead to your child feeling invalidated and possibly escalate communication or the situation itself. Imagine your child comes home from school and tells you they still haven’t been asked to the school dance. A reassuring response may be, “there’s still time for someone to ask you. Even if they don’t, you can still go with your friends.” In contrast, a validating response might be, “you must be upset if you think no one is going to ask you.”

Invalidation: What is it?

Teen looking down with arms crossed, parents' disapproving hands surrounding her

Invalidation communicates that the other person’s thoughts, feelings, and actions in the situation do not make sense, or is an overaction, or is not worthy of your time or interest. At times, we may go as far as thinking someone is doing or saying something as a way to manipulate us or to get out of something. We can have the greatest of intentions when speaking to someone and still can invalidate them. Think of a time in which your child expresses to you, “she hates me!” And you respond, “of course she doesn’t! She is your best friend.” While your intent is to help your child understand that their friend in fact does not hate her, you discounted her emotional state in that moment.   

At this point, you may be asking yourself, what if there is something I truly cannot support? In DBT, we focus on validating the valid, not the invalid. For example, your child comes home from school angry and disappointed that he or she received a low grade on a project. You may know your child started working on the project late the night before it was due. You can validate the feelings of anger and disappointment but should not validate starting the project so close to the due date.


Why validate?

Validation improves our interactions and relationships with others. It makes problem solving, closeness, and support possible. It also makes others more receptive to what we are saying or to our position in the situation. You may have had the experience of trying to talk with your child and explain why a particular behavior was not appropriate or was even dangerous. While an important part of parenting is keeping your child safe, solely focusing on what they did wrong, and not trying to understand the emotions or thoughts that led to the behavior, likely only results in arguments, destruction of the relationship, and further escalation of the problem.


How to validate

1.Actively listen; show that you are listening This often means making eye contact, staying focused on the person, and listening to what is being said. Our lives can be very busy; thus, we attempt to multitask (e.g., respond to an email while our child is talking about the job interview they just had). We risk invalidating someone if we shift our attention off of them while they are speaking.

2.Be aware of your verbal and nonverbal reactions. This means not rolling your eyes, sucking your teeth, interrupting or walking away while they are speaking, and sighing heavily. Don’t say things like, “that’s ridiculous, don’t be sad,” or “it doesn’t matter what you think, you are going to do it.”

3.Observe what your child is feeling in the moment. Look for a word that describes the feeling they are conveying. For example, you can say, “I see that you are worried.”

4.Reflect the feeling back without judgement. The goal here is to repeat back what you heard your child saying. Be sure to stick to what they actually said, not your interpretation or assumption of their words. Be open to feedback or correction here. We don’t always hear it right!

5.Show tolerance! This is looking for how the feelings, thoughts, and actions make sense given your child’s history or current situation. We do this even if you don’t approve of the behaviors or don’t understand the emotion. 

Mother smiling while helping child on computer

For example, your child tells you they are not going to their baseball game this afternoon. Your child is wanting to avoid the game because they have struck out each time it was their turn to bat the last two games and this was embarrassing for them. An example of a validating response based on their past experience may be, “I don’t blame you for feeling nervous about going to the game today. I know you’ve tried really hard to get on base and help your team win.

6.Respond in a way that shows that you are taking your child seriously. This can be done with or without words. Sometimes simply just doing something can be validating. If your child is overwhelmed while trying to do homework, bringing them a glass or water and rubbing their back to help soothe them. This communicates you see that they are very upset and could use a break and that you want help them calm down.

About the Author

Desirae Allen (she/her), Psy.D., is a licensed clinical psychologist that specializes in dialectical behavior therapy. Desirae works with teens and adults, creating a compassionate and judgement-free space, where clients can find wellness and recovery. Desirae believes that DBT can make a long-term difference in people’s lives, and she strives to work collaboratively with her clients to provide adherent DBT. Click Here to learn more about Desirae’s experience and therapeutic style.