The Single Best Parenting Skill
I promise you this seemingly simple skill will work with any child age 2 through teenager and in my profession as a child and family therapist, we rarely make promises! If you’re looking to strengthen your bond, relationship, trust, and approachability—this is key. If you’re looking to teach emotions, empathy, and respect—this is a crucial developmental building block. Validation. Validation is the single best skill a parent can learn to do with their child.
You may be thinking to yourself, “Isn’t validation agreeing with and giving in to whatever sassy comment or tantrum my kid throws at me?” No. According to vocabulary.com, “Validation is making sure that something is true.” As a parent, you’re seeking to understand your child’s “truth.” Through validation, you’re saying, “this feels true for you” despite your interpretation of events. We all have our perspectives and lenses through which we try to make sense of and experience the world. If you think about it, this is exponentially true for kids who are experiencing all their firsts in life and trying to interpret the disappointments, excitements, losses, and hurts that come their way. They need you as their guide teaching them how to put words to their experience and affirming they have someone in their corner that “gets me and sees me” without fear of shame or judgment. It’s incredible so many layers can be impacted through validation.
When kids feel understood by their caregivers, it boosts their sense of value and belonging, which is ultimately what we all crave to feel. The childhood years are particularly ripe for building self-esteem, significance, and identity, and the home should be the best place for a child to feel safe enough to both fail and celebrate life experiences.
Now the question is, “How do I validate?” In simplest terms, according to Mental Health Foundations Emotion Coaching Tips & Tricks, it’s naming the feeling they’re experiencing followed by a because (or two). For example:
❖ “I can see how you might feel sad because your cake pop fell on the floor and now you
can’t eat it and because you were really excited about getting that treat today.” ❖ “I bet you’re angry because your sister took your toy when you weren’t done playing
with it.” ❖ “I can understand how you must’ve felt left out because your friends left practice and
made plans without you.” The basic formula is:
“You felt __________ because __________.”
Besides the previously mentioned trust and value elements, this response also inspires bringing the “thinking brain” or prefrontal cortex back into action to restore a calm state. When kids become upset or dysregulated, their “emotion brain” hijacks the “thinking brain,” which keeps them from being able to use logic or problem solving to move through the situation. One way of looking at this process is referred to as “Name it to tame it” according to Dan Siegel (prominent neuropsychiatrist). As you validate your child and name what you notice to be the
cause of their upset, it causes their emotion brain to stop and think about if you got it right and cracks open the door to their thinking brain, which is the ultimate goal destination. Once this happens, you’re in a much better place to problem solve and co-regulate (model self-regulation and work together on strategies to help the child calm down).
To recap, validation is the single best parenting skill you can use with your child. Validation has the power to build trust, approachability, and relational bond. It teaches emotions, empathy, respect, and regulation. It embeds messages of value, self-esteem, and belonging. This simple sentence structure, offered up time and again as the need arises, is powerful in fostering a sense of trust and will create a depth of relational connection that will last a lifetime.
Additional resources: The Whole-Brain Child by Daniel Siegel and Tina Payne Bryson How to Talk So Kids Will Listen & Listen So Kids Will Talk by Adele Faber & Elaine Mazlish