Episode Intro …
PAM: This week, Anna Brown and I talk about our theme in the Living Joyfully Network this month, Validation. Diving into validation flows beautifully from last month’s theme of Stories because practicing validation with the people in our lives is about hearing, understanding, and accepting their stories as their truth in the moment. Full stop. Our connections with our children grow stronger when they feel seen and heard and loved for who they are. No ifs, ands, or buts.
And while validation helps our children move through their strong emotions and difficult moments, all kinds of moments are great opportunities to show our children that we understand and care about them. Validation is a key ingredient in the connected, respectful, and trusting relationships we see develop in unschooling families!
Now, I don’t know what comes to mind for you when you hear the word validation, but one thing I’ve learned int he Network this month is that it can vary widely! So, I thought we’d start with a definition from dictionary.com. Validation is “the act of affirming a person, or their ideas, feelings, actions, etc., as acceptable and worthy.” I think that’s a pretty good place to start!
I also want to take a moment to talk about what validation is not.
It’s not about praising the person—affirmation is not praise. Praise is a judgment we’re passing down. It makes the interaction about us and what we think, not about the other person at all. Affirmations are non-judgmental observations we share. See how sharing an accurate observation about a moment can help a person feel seen? And how taking the time to notice and share helps them feel worthy of our attention and care?
Validation is also not about having a set of phrases you pull out and repeat whenever your child is upset with the goal of getting them to move past their emotions as quickly as possible. Again, that makes it about us and our wish to quickly placate them and move on. And with an unchanging set of phrases, they don’t feel seen. And rightly so, because we AREN’T seeing them in this moment, we are generalizing. So, of course they don’t feel worthy of our attention and care.
For me, validation is about being in an authentic relationship with another human being. That’s it. It’s not at all about control or coercion or subtle manipulation. There is no ulterior motive. The only “goal” is connecting and learning more about ourselves and each other as human beings.
And with that, I encourage you to take a moment before we get started to take a couple of deep breaths, release any expectations or defensiveness you may be feeling around the idea of validation, and shift to an open and curious mindset.
Are you ready? Let’s dive into my conversation with Anna about validation!
Conversation with Anna …
PAM: Welcome! I’m Pam Laricchia from living joyfully.ca and today I’m here with Anna Brown. Hi, Anna!
ANNA: Hi, Pam.
PAM: So, this month in the Network, our theme has been Validation. And we have been having so much fun with this. I’m really excited to dive into it with you, because we talk so much in unschooling circles about the importance of strong and connected relationships with our kids. And if you’re not quite sure how to get there, validation really might be the missing piece of the puzzle. All right. So, let’s dive in.
The first thing I want to talk about is how sympathy, empathy, and validation weave together in our relationships, because I think that’s going to be a great place just to get us grounded in these ideas.
Where sympathy acknowledges emotion in another person, empathy is about feeling with another person. Theresa Wiseman is a nursing scholar and she talks about the four characteristics of empathy. Number one is, see the world as the other person sees it, through their eyes, not putting yourself in their shoes. Number two is, be non-judgmental. Recognize that this is their truth. Three is, understand the other person’s feelings. And four is, communicate your understanding through words or actions.
RSA Animate put together a wonderful three-minute video from a talk where Brené Brown shares these four characteristics and distinguishes between sympathy and empathy and talks about how sympathy can be disconnecting and how empathy is connecting. And I will put a link to that in the show notes, so you guys can check that out.
Those first three steps are our processing work to do and I just want to quickly step through them. In the first step, seeing the world as the other person sees it. I think this piece can really trip us up, because it’s not about putting ourselves in their shoes so that we can take stock of the situation as it looks.
It’s about looking at things through the other person’s eyes, understanding what they are wanting to do or to accomplish in that moment. And that includes how their day has gone up to this point, how their unique personality is woven into all of that, what they like and dislike, what they find challenging and easy and frustrating, and how they prefer to process things. So, you want to get into their head and see through their eyes. That’s the big distinguishing difference there.
The second one is the nonjudgmental piece, which is just really recognizing that the way they’re seeing and feeling in this moment is their truth, full stop. Right now, this is truth to them. And then there’s the piece about recognizing and understanding their feelings. That’s pretty self-explanatory, I think, but it gets us to that last piece. And this is where validation happens. It’s where we connect and communicate our understanding so that the other person, in this particular case our child, feels seen and heard. There we go, Anna. That is setting us up right here.
Now we’ve gotten to this validation piece and how it weaves with empathy and validating and meeting the person where they are, that is just where the whole meat of this is, isn’t it?
ANNA: Yes. And like you said, this is the piece when people are wondering, how do I get those relationships that they’re talking about? How do I do that? This is it. So, listen to this podcast, listen to it again, because this is so critical.
And I have a quote also from Brené Brown related to this and it’s just a simple quote. It says,
“In order to empathize with someone’s experience, you must be willing to believe them as they see it and not how you imagine their experience to be.”
And so, this is just another little twist on that that you were just saying, and it’s such a critical step, because many times what someone is feeling in a moment may not make sense to us. And when we’re talking about children and big emotions, at times, it can be baffling. Like, how did we get here? You know? But what we can do is trust that what they’re expressing in this moment is their truth full stop, just like you said.
PAM: Yes, it’s not manipulative at all. This is just how they are. And this is what they’re seeing and what they’re feeling in this moment.
ANNA: Right now, in this moment. And I have found that when I can hear that and reflect back my understanding, it helps them move through the big emotions. They aren’t put in a position of defending why they are feeling a certain way. And if, in fact, I hear them start defending, I know I’m making it about me and it’s about my lack of understanding. And that’s the red flag. And that isn’t helping them process the upset in front of them at all.
And so, basically, I’m not trying to solve it. I’m not trying to play down or tamp down their emotions or anything about their experience at all. I’m tuning in to understand their feelings and the intensity around what is happening for them without agenda, without judgment. And, as you said, that is a critical piece, because it’s very easy to fall into judgment. It’s very easy to go, “Why are they so upset? What is this about? This is ridiculous.” Quiet that down, because that is just going to escalate, escalate, escalate, and disconnect, because that’s what we’re talking about today is this whole piece of how we use validation, what a wonderful tool it is, and how it’s part of the connection that we have with the people around us.
PAM: Yes. And as you were talking there, one of the things that I think can get in our way, too, is that when we see someone upset or having a hard time, we want to make it better.
We want to help them move through it quickly. And that’s where the sympathy piece that Brené talks about comes in, because we’re quickly trying to share the silver lining. We’re quickly trying to soothe their feelings, trying to quiet them down. And yes, that takes over their process. That’s why that is disconnecting, because we’re trying to move them from where they are to where we’re more comfortable for them to be.
ANNA: Where we want them to be.
PAM: We make it all about us. Okay.
So, the next piece I want to talk about is what validation looks like and the language we use. I wanted to dive into that.
And picking up on what you were just talking about, if we want to empathize and validate, we need to set aside our thoughts and feelings about the situation for now and join them where they are in their experience. And I want to emphasize it. By setting aside our thoughts and feelings, I don’t mean stuffing them down and ignoring them forever. I mean that this moment is where we’re choosing to empathize. We’re choosing to empathize with them, to validate them, and that is not a helpful time for us to start expressing our perspective, for us to try and process what this feels like and what this means to us. We’re choosing in this moment to set this aside and join them where they are.
So, we can definitely do and really should do our processing later, figuring out our reactions and why we reacted that way. And if we need to do some processing later, it will also likely be with other more appropriate people.
ANNA: Yeah. I mean, it’s critical for us to set aside that. And especially when our buttons are pushed, because that’s typically when we go to that spot. A button has been pushed and so, then we’re going to have this quick reaction from that button. But as soon as I feel that rising in me, I’m like, I’m going to set that aside because I can return to that process later. I can do that. This isn’t my upset. This is the person in front of me. I can deal with that later, because reacting from that button will not bring peace to the situation in front of me at all.
And, for me, I want to avoid definitive-type, “you are”-type statements. I want to be open. I want to inquire. I want to reflect back what I’m seeing from the person. And you can give language to emotions, but not in a way that feels like you’re defining who they are. And so, that’s a nuance that’s important. So, it can be phrased as like, “It sounds like,” or, “What I’m hearing is,” or, “I really want to understand.”
And just that piece, that earnest, “I really want to understand,” can just bring down intense energy, because they know they don’t have to fight to be heard or understood, that you are engaged and you’re there and you’re trying. And you can rephrase that in whatever way feels good to you, but it’s about being clear in your intentions of trying to understand, of seeking clarification. That helps the person know that you’re engaged and believe that their feelings are valid, even if you don’t fully understand them yet. And that’s okay. You don’t have to instantly understand them. But it’s that willingness. It’s that earnestness. It’s that care.
And so, I’m just going to run through a quick example of siblings. “I hate my sister.” Okay. So, this is one I’ve heard. Other people have probably heard it, too. And the rephrase could be something like, when I come into the room, they’re playing, I come in, it’s like, “Whoa, how is everybody? What’s going on? It sounds like you’ve had enough and you’re wanting to be alone.”
And then that kind of questioning may lead the child to say, “Well, I don’t want to be alone, but she’s not listening to me!” or whatever the thing is. And then I might say, “Okay, so I really want to understand, are you wanting to play, but she’s not hearing you? Or are you just done with this game?”
And then that drills us down to the issue, because it becomes something that we actually can find a solution for. Because “I hate my sister” doesn’t provide a path forward. But dismissing that with, “Oh, but she means well,” or, “You love her,” or, “She loves you,” or even worse, judgment language. “That’s not nice. We don’t say that,” all of those are dismissing phrases. It puts the person on the defensive. And humans just double down when we’re on the defensive. But if we can get to those issues, if they feel heard, then it’s like, okay, we can move forward. We can move forward from here with some solutions.
And I also want to be really aware of avoiding dismissing statements like, “You’re too sensitive,” or, “This is not a big deal.” “Why do you get upset at everything?” “You can’t take a joke.” These are things some of us heard, especially sensitive people, in our childhood and it feels terrible. All of those statements and anything like them are so disconnecting. It just leaves the person not feeling understood, not connected, and you feel like you’ll never be connected, because they’ll never understand me. I want to offer kindness. I want to offer love and support. That is what helps maintain our connection and it allows the person space to move through their emotions knowing that they’re valid. Because here’s the thing, our emotions are valid and nothing good comes from stuffing them down or denying them.
And if we have the space to process, we will learn the tools. And subsequent situations may not have the charge. So, people may think, “But I don’t want to validate these big emotions, because it’s going to lead to them doing more and more of that.” But it doesn’t. It doesn’t at all. Maybe it feels like a paradox. It isn’t. We develop the tools by being heard and by working through the upset, especially with a trusted person. As a child, working through with a trusted advisor, a parent who hears them and acknowledges, that helps us find the tools to move forward and to even understand our emotions. Because that’s what it’s about for little kids, especially, they’re trying to understand the emotions. Everything feels big. And how do I move through that?
And by validating and hearing, it allows them to process all the big things that they’re feeling, because I do think it’s valuable to help people find words. For example, angry behavior is often an expression of another emotion. It could be frustration or hurt or loneliness, and digging into that can help a person move forward. And so, often then we can uncover that underlying emotion and that’s what removes the blocks. Those are some of the big pieces that I think about when I’m validating or have someone in front of me who’s upset.
PAM: Yeah, I love all that. And what I really love and want to emphasize is that we’re meeting them where they are to help them understand what’s happening and move forward. So, like you were saying, when you run in with these “you are” kinds of statements, that doesn’t really open up conversation or really encourage. It really keeps you stuck. So, one example that I remember is getting really frustrated while playing a video game.
And if you run in and you want to validate, and you say, “You’re so frustrated,” it’s like, where do we go from there? It’s like, “Yes. And I’m just going to show you more so that I’m really frustrated. I am just going to double down on that and show you that you are right.”
But if I could go in and validate that, but through the eyes of what is causing the frustration, “Oh, that game is really frustrating.” “That boss is really frustrating. It’s really challenging.”
ANNA: Or, “You’ve been working on it for so long.”
PAM: Yeah. “You were so excited to try and do this level this morning. I’m sorry that it’s really hard right now,” and just sitting with them there.
So, again, it’s not about trying to rush them through to get them more comfortable, but that’s a really helpful piece of validation. Because the message you’re sending is that it is totally okay to be frustrated right now. But you’re helping them identify how they got there. And what that helps over time is they start to see the clues before they get to that overwhelming or overpowering moment.
ANNA: When we have a big emotion, sometimes we feel as if we are the big emotion. But when we can see that, okay. Yes, this game is frustrating. This piece is not what I thought it was. It gives us that little bit of separation that this isn’t all that I am. This is me in this moment with this thing in front of me. And that’s the growth, that’s how we learn. That’s how we separate. And that’s what you see a lot of adults still not understanding, just reacting with big emotions as if that’s all they are, instead of labeling the situation and realizing, this situation isn’t working for me. I’m not liking how this is going. Those are so much more valuable in terms of labeling what’s happening in a situation for us to help move through something.
And so, this process that you just described and what we’re talking about, that helps our small children learn how to do that along the way. And, boy, will it serve them over the coming decades. And another piece of that is that, “I understand how hard this is. I can see, oh my gosh, how hard you’ve been working. And I think that would be so frustrated too,” and it’s just that little separation from, again, all who we are, versus this situation we can look at together. That’s a big difference, me and you’re trying to deal with me, versus we’re looking together at this frustrating situation.
PAM: Yes. Exactly. And that helps. Right there, that helps release just a little bit. “Okay. This is not me as a person. This is this moment and it makes sense that I’m frustrated in this moment.”
And then, the other piece you were talking about, the questions. The questions can be so valuable. It can be, “How can I help?” But then, if you’ve got a child who doesn’t have a lot of ideas or maybe this is a new experience or maybe it’s just not something they can pull in right now, maybe then you make suggestions. “Can I find a walkthrough for you?” “Can I get you a drink?” “You want to go walk outside?” You can bring suggestions, but you can tell from their reaction whether or not this is helpful to them or whether, like you were saying, if they just start getting angrier, they start maybe feeling a bit defensive, it’s like, okay, I’m going to change tack a little bit and ask, “How would you like me to help?”
And then, we can also have other kinds of conversations at other times, but it’s just so helpful. That’s why this can be challenging, because it’s very unique to the individuals involved. It’s really our own experiences and seeing how we can work through these moments with our own kids. And for ourselves, there’s so much learning in there, too.
And so, we’ve been talking about big emotions. That’s another piece I wanted to get into, because sometimes we will hear from parents that in those moments, in these big, charged moments, they come back and they say, “Oh, my child doesn’t want me to validate them. They don’t want me to talk to them. They just get madder when I try to do this.” Absolutely. Verbal validation is not always helpful in the heat of the moment. Back to individuals, it’s learning about how your child wants to move through these kinds of situations.
So, in charged moments, we can think of our work to help them move through them as non-verbal validation. I really like that idea. I like to think of it as using the language of presence.
So, it’s about providing our child with that loving presence that shows them that we’re not angry with them. We’re not afraid of them. We don’t want to add any more weight to a child who’s already feeling incredibly overwhelmed and trying to process something that is really big for them.
ANNA: Yes. I feel like this is where it’s so important to know your child, your spouse, yourself. For many people, in the heat of an upset, they don’t want words, but they also don’t want to be left alone sometimes. And so, when we have those big emotions, it can be scary, especially for children, but really for anyone. When people run away or try to stop our emotions, it just feels terrible. And instead, if we can show unconditional love and stay present, it helps the big emotions wash through without the added weight of, “How are they landing on this person that I love?” We don’t have to feel bad about the feelings. And that can help us move through them.
And when verbal validation is not welcome in the heat of the moment, there are so many ways to be present and validate without words, just being a calm presence. Some may want to be physically held and others may just want you sitting nearby or on the other side of the room, but still there. It could be fetching a comforting toy or something that feels good to them. It could be moving them to a quiet space, because you can tell there’s some sensory overwhelm in the particular situation. Or clearing the room. If they’re not able to move, maybe you can shepherd other people out to something fun so that can bring down the sensory input. It could be getting water or food.
So, we had this thread in the Network where we talked about what we needed, personally, to feel heard and seen in an upset. And, boy, was it fascinating. Everyone was so different. So, me, I want to be alone. I need to process before I’m ready to have anyone else’s energy in that situation, but others wanted someone there the whole time, even if they said they didn’t want anything or didn’t want them to stay, which I thought was fascinating. And yes, that sounds very confusing.
But it’s also why it’s so helpful to have these conversations outside of the heat of the moment, so there aren’t misunderstandings and you can be present for the people you love when they need you. Understanding those nuances of how we move through things can really help. And I think what I loved about the thread was it showed how different it was. And then, I think, that helps us see that it’s different for our kids, too. Each of our children are going to have their own ways that feel validating to them, the things that they need in the moment. And for people who prefer non-verbal, there are so many things you can do.
So, whenever somebody comes and says, “My child doesn’t want to be validated,” I’m like, “Then let’s think about what we’re doing. Let’s think about how we’re doing it and tweak it a little bit,” because I just will firmly stand on the belief that every human wants to be heard and seen. And so, let’s figure out what helps them feel heard and seen.
PAM: Yeah, exactly. Everybody wants that, wants that acknowledgement, that validation. It’s a great word for it. Validating who they are as a person. And I love the point about figuring out some possibilities outside of the heated moment, especially for kids who can find themselves stuck in these places. I remember I would go chat with each of my kids and we’d figure out a plan for next time, because it’s not like you’re looking for an answer. It’s like, what would we like to try next time you’re getting so upset that we can’t have a conversation in that moment?
And the other great piece was, then I could go to their siblings and say, “Hey, next time they get upset, they really want me to take them to their room and stay with them for a while while they calm down. So, when that happens, maybe you can do this or this,” so that it’s not a surprise and they’re all of the sudden looking around going, “Where did mom go?” So, they understand. And sometimes it was that they would like me to stay with them, but to be alone in the room, but they don’t want to go up to their bedrooms.
So, next time, like you were saying, shepherding other people out. But again, they’ve got a heads up. You don’t have to be trying to explain and cajole them in the moment when things are already heated and you are probably high energy in that moment. So, you’ve got a plan. “Oh, you guys, let’s go put that movie on that we talked about and then I can go and speak with your brother,” or whatever. So, just having those plans for those moments really helped.
And then, after the time has passed, you can revisit it again. So, “How did that work? How did that feel? Was that helpful when I was there? Is there something else that you can think of that I can do?” And I can bring suggestions. “Would it help if I brought a glass of water or a snack,” or whatever? But after a few times, then you start to get a little bit more creative, because that just opens up the language. We’re learning the language of processing through these moments and we’re gaining experience of how we can all move through them. And we’re gaining experience, like we were saying, about recognizing it earlier on too. And then they start to take a little bit more action ahead of time.
ANNA: Right. And what you were saying, as you were talking about having the conversations with everybody, is it’s again, that tiny bit of separation, because in the moment of a heated thing where something’s happening with a sibling who may be very upset and angry or even in lashing out, to the other person, that feels very personal. Like, “Oh my gosh, they hate me.” Or whatever. But when we can have these conversations to say, “When your sister gets to that place past her threshold of sensory input or whatever it is, she lashes out at everyone around her, but I’m okay with that. And I want you to feel okay to walk away and that she and I are okay and that I’m going to help her.”
And then it’s like, “Okay. I don’t have to be scared about this. It’s not about me.” So, that gives some language when you have that person who can be explosive or who has big emotions. These are conversations that I think are important to have as a family, too. These are not big, sit-down-for-two-hours conversations. Okay? We always have to say that, because think that’s what we mean. But it’s just those little moments that just allow someone to take that, “Okay. I don’t have to take that in.” And so I loved that when you said that about that piece.
PAM: Yeah. That has been so valuable over time.
And then when you show up and do the thing that you guys agreed upon, that’s validating, too. No matter what happens, we’re going to go with our plan. Every single moment really just becomes focused on building that connection. And that’s what we were talking about upfront, these empathetic responses and meeting them where they are and validating them is really about building connection, which leads us to how validation ultimately is all about connection. That is the goal of validation. That is what happens when we validate. We’re connecting more because we are seeing and hearing them.
When they feel seen and heard and fully accepted for who they are, there’s no ifs, ands, or buts about it. Validation just naturally leads to deeper connection. And that connection really is that foundation of those strong and trusting relationships with our kids, which in turn then helps us get through those harder times with more compassion and more grace. So, it goes round and round and round, us getting to know each other, us learning a language to talk about challenging times, us coming up with ways to move through them, gaining experience with that. And that’s connection. That’s where you’re building those relationships. Right?
ANNA: Yes. I mean, learning how our children and our partners feel heard and validated is the key to fostering connection. And it helps us show up in the relationship in a way that grows connection and understanding, just like we think about how they learn or how they process information and some of the other pieces we’ve talked about. This is one of those critical pillars, really. And one of the mantras that I got from a friend related to this is, “Be kind, not right.”
And so, as I’ve mentioned before, sometimes we really don’t understand where the person is coming from. And sometimes we can just think they’re plain wrong. We don’t agree at all. But, if our goal is connection, we’ve got to figure out a way to set that aside. And the easiest way I’ve found to do that is to remind myself that I can choose kindness. And it doesn’t change my opinion, but it prioritizes the relationship. And when someone feels truly heard, that is the space where minds can change, could be their mind, could be my mind, but that’s the space, only after we both feel heard and validated.
So, there’s something called Ring Theory that I wanted to talk just briefly about. And it was developed by Susan Silk and Barry Goldman. And we think of it related to big traumas, like grief especially, but I think it has a place in validation of all sorts of things. And we can put a link in the show notes, but imagine the impacted person in the center and then concentric rings of related people circling out. The closer to the relationship or the situation of the impacted person, the closer the circle, and so forth. It goes out. And their phrase about it is, “Comfort in. Dump out.”
And what’s important about this is to not view someone’s issues through your personal filters. And we touched on that a little bit earlier, but really listening to the person in front of you and reflecting back their feelings about the situation, not your feelings about the situation, because sometimes we can jump into that. “Oh, that would be so terrible. I wouldn’t be able to survive that.” And, boy, does that discount the person in front of you.
So, if you’re not sure how they’re feeling about a situation, ask some questions, just gentle questions, “How’s it going? How are you feeling about that? How did that feel?” Because if you’re hurting deeply, and for those of us that are sensitive, it can be hard. We take on people’s experiences, but we can take that to a person outside the circle. We can take that to another person who can provide support to us who is one more step removed from the situation.
Because if not, if we’re bringing it to the person, it’s shifts the focus to us. And I think many of us can probably say we’ve been in this situation. We have our own trauma or tragedy and then somebody is coming at us with all these emotions and I feel like I have to comfort them. Now I have to make them feel better about my tragedy. And that is not where we want to be. That’s not how we provide support to people. We want to tell our own stories. So, ask questions to see how they’re feeling and process your feelings on your own time with someone further away from the center, because this goal of validation is connection, to help that person feel seen and heard.
And so, understanding these nuances and how we can bring maybe too much of ourselves or our experience into someone else’s experience really can help us start to hone in why validation hasn’t been working. We got a little bit of that in the Network where people were going, “Oh, I don’t think I’ve been doing this right.”
Because we think it’s validating to say those things, what we’re feeling about the situation, but it really isn’t, because we’re wanting to validate how that person’s feeling, how it’s landing for them, how they’re moving through it. And that’s just a really important nuance with this piece.
PAM: Yes. I love that. The Ring Theory idea, it really helps. Like you were saying, if somebody comes at you with a lot of emotions about your situation and you’re feeling you need to comfort them, that’s “comfort out”. That is so easy to recognize. It’s like, no. That doesn’t feel good to me. But we can turn around and find someone who’s one step more removed.
So, maybe you’re close to the situation, but you can find another friend or acquaintance or family member somewhere who is one step removed. So, maybe it’s us going to our parents about something that’s going on with our child. If that’s a conversation that we can have. Coming to the Network, any place where you can find somebody who’s a little bit more removed, who can then help you process your stuff.
And they’ll be offering “comfort in”. You’re a step closer. So, they’re going to be comforting and validating for you and helping you figure out how to move through that process. So, I think it’s just such a great visual to quickly help us frame our approach to any situation that’s unfolding.
I love the, “Be kind, not right.” You just popped that in there, but when you come into a situation with that and you release that need to be right, oh my gosh! Somebody learns something in there.
ANNA: Somebody learns something. A lot of times, it’s me.
PAM: “I’m glad I didn’t say anything, because I got this all wrong!”
ANNA: It’s so true.
PAM: It’s saved my butt so many times. But that other piece that we’ve talked about this throughout the conversation, recognizing and releasing our filters, our agendas, our expectations, baggage that we may be bringing from experiences that we had growing up, all those pieces, just peeling back those layers and recognizing the different ways that we may be bringing weight into the situation, which then just makes it harder for the other person to work through their process.
Because validating and seeing and supporting someone is about helping them move through their process, how they need to and want to move through a situation. So, we can put less weight on that and we can just come freely to the moment with them and support them, how they see it, accept their truth as we’ve been talking about, but also their next steps, how they want to move forward.
And when we can come with less and less weight, they will have less to work through to get to the place where they can take another step, where they can start moving forward. So, that is just such an important piece of that.
And then the last thing that I wanted to touch on really just became clear this month to me. We talk about this kind of stuff all the time, but recognizing that, truly, all moments with our kids are opportunities for validation, realizing that it’s not just about those more challenging moments, it’s about all the moments.
So, validating them when they share their big dreams, their aspirations, their fears, their frustrations, all the things that make them uniquely them. If I’m careful not to jump in and immediately add my two cents to whatever it is, and instead just meet their enthusiasm about whatever it is, ask questions to learn more about what they’re thinking, where they’re coming from, what they’re hoping to get out of it.
Maybe they brought up something completely new and so, just asking questions and learning more about it and how they see things keeps that conversation and the connection flowing, rather than shutting it down by jumping in and trying to solve it or trying to accomplish it ASAP. It is just so helpful to recognize that all of these moments can be validating and connecting.
ANNA: Yes! And I think you’re right.
This month in the Network and really digging into validation, it’s something that I’ve been involved with for decades. And just now I’m realizing, okay. This is the key. This is the key to developing these connected relationships. And yeah, it’s not just during the upset. That’s critical. It’s critical to validate someone when they’re upset. But it is about all the things, the big, exciting things, the everyday, mundane things. It’s all the things, because that’s what builds the close, connected relationships that we’re talking about on the podcast, that we talk about in the Network.
And part of this definitely involves us releasing our agenda, our ideas about what we want for our kids or what they should be doing. When a child or a teen brings a big idea, instead of listing all the things that can go wrong or why that’s not going to work, like you said, celebrate, ask questions, meet their enthusiasm, because this is all part of brainstorming and growing and processing and figuring out.
And true, they may not be able to start their own international business at eight, but as you listen and celebrate, ideas will form that will work. But if you jump in with the naysaying or, “What about this?” Or, “That’s not going to work,” you just shut down creativity. It stops. And, like you said, it can also get us a peek into what they’re excited about, what they’ve been thinking about. What’s been sparking in their environment? And it helps us stay connected in that way and gives us insights into the ways we can add things into their environment that will help them along this path.
And so, you can see it there again, that’s part of those connected relationships we’re talking about, because when you take the time to validate those pieces and hear them and celebrate, you’re learning and you’re staying connected. And I’m just going to say, the little things are the rehearsal for the big things, because when they come to us excited about a game or a drawing, or frustrated about a game or drawing, joining their energy, asking questions, listening, being that listening ear, it sets a pattern of them knowing that you will take them seriously, and that what they’re feeling is important, and that we want to hear them, and that we’re interested.
So, when the big stuff comes, and the big stuff is coming, they will want to talk to you about it. They’ll want to share those dreams and ideas. And, I mean, it’s a gift. It’s a gift for someone to trust you with those things. But that trust is developed all along the way with these little things that they come to us with.
Because I think we can all think of people who we feel supported by and how they react to our ideas and our news and our upsets. And so, choosing to be that person for our child and others in our life, it’s just so rewarding. And I feel like the rewards are the amazing relationships—the connections, the joy, and just the learning that we all get by being connected to these amazing children and humans in our lives and our home.
PAM: Yes. I love what you said there, too. Those conversations are just so fun. When I show up in conversation with my kids just completely open, so my agendas are gone, my filters, and I’m just super curious about where things may go, it is just so invigorating. I come away from so many conversations just excited and energized.
When we talk about self-care, having fun conversations with my kids is self-care, because I might’ve been a bit low energy to start, but after I’m just excited. The enthusiasm just permeates the atmosphere. And then, just to bring this back to that validation piece, it is so validating for them in those conversations, because they’re controlling where the conversation goes. And they see us happily going with them and following them in all the different places that they’re going. How validating is that to not have someone else who’s trying to redirect it and making it about them, who’s like, “Oh, well, what about this? Did you consider this?” There’s time for all that. There’s always time. That’s one of your things.
ANNA: Plenty of time, Pam.
PAM: That’s it. There is plenty of time. They’re not about to run out the door immediately to accomplish some big dream that you guys are just brainstorming and having fun with. There is plenty of time for all these different pieces to show up. And when you give them that space, I learned so often that they had considered so much more.
All those things that I thought I was going to jump in and say, “Oh, well, I bet you didn’t think about this or this,” so often they thought about this, and that, and the other thing. But you needed to have space for the conversation for all those pieces to bubble up. And you learn so much more about what they’re thinking, how they considered that, what direction they’re thinking about now. And then, they have space to ask us questions, because their questions will bubble up.
They’re not going to come to a conversation with a list of things on a sheet of paper and say, “This is the stuff that I want to talk to you about.” Giving space for that conversation to go. And when they lead it, it is just naturally validating. They feel so seen and heard when we are happy to hop on for the ride in that conversation.
ANNA: Yep. And when we’re not jumping in with the judgment language or the second guessing what they’re doing, it leaves them feeling very safe to share the things. So, maybe they have a big idea, and there are some scary things about it or some hard things, but if they feel we’re going to have resistance, they may tuck those things away and maybe push through some boundaries that they don’t want to, or shouldn’t, perhaps.
But if they feel, “No, I can hand this to my mom or to this person, and that they’re going to hold space with me and let me think about it, but not take over,” then they’re so much safer. Because some people worry about that, like, “We need to tell them and they need to learn the lesson and they need to understand.”
But it’s like, they will. They will when they can talk it through with you, when you talk it through together. But they will not if you move through their boundaries, if you take it over, if you start to over-explain or ask too many questions that are kind of pointed or judgmental, you know what I mean? So, leaving that space, like you said, to just let those conversations come when they’re ready and toy those around and not react too strongly if you’re going, “Ooh, I don’t know about that!” But just let it unfold, because you’ll see, they’re not running out the door right now. They’re just having a conversation.
PAM: Yeah. But also, in those moments over time, there will be useful moments to bubble up my question or my consideration. Instead of jumping in and redirecting the conversation to take care of my concern right now, because my concerns are more important than what they’re thinking about. There will be times when my concern flows into whatever we’re talking about. If I can just be patient and really just be with them in that moment, it will come up.
ANNA: And I found when I left space for that, they would even ask me questions. So, after they kind of laid out their piece, they might be like, “But what do you think about that? Do you think we’ll find a place that’ll work?” And I’m like, “I don’t know, let’s look at this,” or, “Let’s figure it out,” that type of thing. But that’s how comfortable they felt, because they knew that this was just a safe environment to throw things out and ask questions. And I think many of us can think back to our childhoods where, no, we’re not going to share that stuff with our parents, because we know they’re going to shut it down, or they’re going to say, “It’s never going to work.”
And so, we can create such different relationships and such a different environment and such a different experience for everybody involved. And, like you said a few minutes ago, it’s just fun. It’s so much more fun to be enjoying all these things together and exploring together.
PAM: So much more fun. I hope you guys found this conversation interesting.
I really do feel like validation is a key piece of the puzzle to developing these strong, connected, and trusting relationships that we talk about with unschooling, because it’s in the foundation of those relationships that everything bubbles up. Like you said, it’s fun. But it’s also a wonderful foundation for our kids to explore the world. It’s where rich, rich learning happens, learning that stays with them, because we give it that space to bubble up and for those connections to be made. And those are firm connections. In all the ways, validation is so very helpful, being seen and heard.
ANNA: So helpful. And yeah, just think about it. Think about it in your life. Think about it for yourself. Think about what you need. Just start having those conversations. And then come join us on the Network and we’ll talk about it some more, because it’s the key. It’s so exciting.
PAM: And I can’t overemphasize how fun it is, because when you first start, it can feel very uncomfortable. It can feel very stressful, but as you develop that language with your kids and you start to develop that trust that you can have these kinds of conversations and we can share when we’re feeling off or when something didn’t feel good and we can work from it, the conversations that bubble up through these strong and trusting relationships are just beautiful.
Thank you so much, Anna! Have a wonderful day.
ANNA: You, too. Take care.