We’re back with a new episode in our Parenting series and we’re talking about validation again. And this time, we’re diving into what it looks like to validate our children. It can be hard to understand or identify with our children’s big emotions sometimes. But even then, validating our children’s emotions and experiences is such a powerful way to connect with them and help them move through challenging moments.
Making sure that children feel heard and seen helps them better understand their internal experience and leads to stronger communication skills. Validation really is a game changer for any age!
We hope today’s episode sparks some fun insights for you and we invite you to dive deeper with our Episode Questions. Join us on Instagram or YouTube to continue the conversation and share your reflections.
Let’s dig deep, challenge paradigms, choose connection, and live joyfully!
1. Similar to a question from the previous validation episode, over the next couple of weeks, practice seeing moments through the eyes of your child. Not just ones where they’re upset, but also ones where they’re excited or happy. Can you see why they are expressing that emotion in that moment?
2. Do you find it hard, particularly with your children, to not project their behavior in this moment into the future? If so, take some time to ponder how that may interfere with navigating this moment and try out some new self-talk to help you transition back into the present moment.
3. Do big emotions feel triggering for you? It’s worth taking some time to dig deeper into that to help detangle your feelings from their feelings, which can be really helpful when we’re trying to validate someone else. You can check out episode 21 to explore triggers specifically.
PAM: Hello! And welcome to the Living Joyfully Podcast. Navigating relationships can sometimes be challenging, because people are so different. Thanks for joining us as we dive into tools, strategies, and paradigm shifts to help you decrease conflicts and increase connection in your most important relationships.
If you’re new to the podcast, we encourage you to go back and listen from the beginning, particularly the episodes in our introductory Foundation series. If you want to dive deeper, we also have courses and coaching which you can explore in our Living Joyfully Shop. Follow the link in the show notes or go to livingjoyfullyshop.com.
This episode is part of our Parenting series, and it follows from the recent validation episode in our relationship series, episode 26. Today, we’re gonna look at validation specifically through the lens of our relationships with our children.
In the earlier episode, we talked about the importance of seeing through the other person’s eyes to help us empathize with them, and that is just as valuable with our children. I think sometimes our society devalues and minimizes children’s feelings, thinking they get upset over silly things. But in my experience, that is just not true.
To experience that yourself, we need to bring two of the tools we talked about last time into our interactions with our kids and that’s seeing through their eyes and not having an agenda. Their actions and reactions often really do make sense when we look at the situations through their eyes, when we consider their experiences so far in life, their perspective on the situation at hand, their goal in the moment, and the different aspects of their personality.
Very often, when we bring those all together, when we see what this moment looks like through their eyes, their actions and reactions make sense. This is their truth. Regardless of what it looks like through our eyes, this is what it looks like through their eyes. Full stop.
And also, how we would process and move through this moment may well not work for them. When we meet them where they are, when they feel seen and heard, and when we support them in moving forward in ways they want to explore, we help them learn so much about themselves. Of course, that means releasing our agenda around what that looks like and helping them find what it looks like for them.
When it comes to our children, we often think we need to teach them what it looks like, but they are different people than us. Again, different experiences, goals, personalities. Chances are what works for us won’t work well for them.
ANNA: Oh my gosh, it’s so true. And I’m very excited that we’re talking about validation related to our children. When people are wondering, how do I improve my relationship with my child or teen, this is it.
And so, I want to start with a quote from Brené Brown that’s kind of related to this, and it’s just a simple quote and 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.”
So, just another twist on what we were saying about seeing through their eyes, but it’s such a critical step. So, however we can get it to land for someone, because many times, what someone is feeling in the moment may not make sense to us. And when we’re talking about children and big emotions at times, it can be truly baffling.
We can wonder, how did we get here? But what we can do is trust that what they’re expressing in this moment is their truth. Full stop, like you said.
PAM: Yes. It’s not manipulative at all. This is what they’re seeing and what they’re feeling in this moment. It just is.
ANNA: Right now, in this moment. And when we can hear that and reflect back our understanding, it helps them move through the big emotions.
They aren’t put in a position of defending why they’re feeling a certain way. And if, in fact, we hear them start defending, you can be pretty sure that we’re making it about us. And that defending we’re hearing is about our lack of understanding. And that’s the red flag, and it isn’t helping them process the upset in front of them at all.
So, it’s important to start from the understanding that with validation, we’re not trying to solve it. We’re not trying to downplay or tamp down their emotions or anything about the experience at all. We’re tuning in to understand their feelings and the intensity around what is happening for them without agenda, without judgment. And as you said, this 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.” But we need to quiet that judgment because that is just going to escalate, escalate, escalate, and disconnect.
And validation is such a wonderful tool, and it’s absolutely critical for these strong connections so that we can all feel heard and understood.
PAM: Yeah, it really, really is. And to meet our children with empathy and validate their experience, it is really helpful to have a sense of the underlying needs they’re trying to meet and the context of how that is playing out in the circumstances of the moment.
We talk about underlying needs so often, but it’s so valuable, right?
And for me, that follows along from seeing things through their eyes. That gets me asking myself the question as to what need is underneath there. So, not just that they’re upset because their sibling won’t give them a toy, but noticing that the toy they’re wanting is say a stuffed tiger that over in the far corner you see, they’ve placed blocks three high into squares, and that two of the squares hold a stuffed bear and a plastic ostrich respectfully while a third pen is empty, which reminds you of your family trip to the zoo last week, and you go, oh, they’re playing out that scene.
You also know that this child in particular likes to process things through play. So, now it’s making more sense that they’re so intent on the stuffed tiger, remembering how much they enjoyed watching the tigers at the zoo last week over the big pile of random stuffies on the floor next to the kids. “Why does it have to be this stuffy?” It’s going to be easier to validate them now that we better understand what this moment looks like to them and what it feels like to them.
That is such an important step because we want to avoid making those dismissive statements like, “It’s not a big deal. Just grab another stuffed toy.” Or, “Why do you get so upset at such little things?” Because comments like that can leave a child feeling misunderstood. Definitely not feeling seen and heard and loved for who they are.
Having spoken with lots of parents over the years, when it comes to upsets, it’s pretty common to think, but I don’t want to validate these big emotions. It feels like I’m giving them permission to do it even more, but you’re really, really not. Over time, our kids develop tools that help them navigate hard moments by being heard and working through these kinds of hard moments as they arise with a trusted person.
Validation and working through these moments is what helps them develop the self-awareness to notice when their emotions are rising and explore some tools for their toolbox that help them take action before they bubble over. That is what helps lessen the frequency, not being told they’re overreacting and have to stop it right now. We’re expecting them to figure out on their own how to stop their emotions from spilling over, just because you told them to stop. Right?
So, another aspect of validation to consider is, it’s less about validating the emotion itself and more about validating the circumstances that led to the emotion, because that’s where the richer learning lies. So, for example, maybe they’re playing a video game and get upset when they can’t accomplish something they’re trying to do. If, wanting to validate, we say, “Oh, I see you’re so angry.” Well, yes, they’re expressing anger, but once we focus on the emotion, where does the conversation go from there?
Maybe they respond with an even louder, “Yes! I’m so mad!”
But if we can bring more context in, we might say something like, “I know you were so excited to try that level today. I’m sorry it’s been so frustrating.” And we sit with them. We’re sending the message that it’s okay, their feelings totally make sense.
Maybe they were feeling angry and we helped them notice the underlying frustrations. See, notice that I had used the word frustration instead of anger. Maybe their feelings felt a bit over the top to them, even. They were like, why the heck am I so mad about this? And we helped them see how they got there, that they were extra excited about playing this level and that’s why they are extra bummed right now. I mean, right there, there’s so much learning.
ANNA: Oh my gosh. So much learning for everyone. And I want to talk a minute about examining our language, because it’s so important that we want to use language that will help us get to the underlying need and make sure that we’re maintaining the connection. And to that end, avoiding those definitive type “you are” statements is a great place to start.
We want to be open, we want to inquire, we want to reflect back what we’re seeing from the person and the situation, like you were talking about there, that frustration, knowing what they were wanting to do with the game.
And we can give language to emotions, but not in a way that feels like we’re defining who they are. And that’s an important nuance. It can be phrased like, “It sounds like,” or, “What I’m hearing,” or, “I remember that you were wanting to do this and that’s feeling frustrating. Is that what’s going on?” Or, “Tell me more about it.
I really want to understand.” And just that piece, that earnest, “I really want to understand” can bring down intense energy, because they know they don’t have to fight to be heard or understood. They can see that we’re engaged and present and trying, and you can then rephrase in whatever way feels good to you.
But it’s about being clear in our intentions of trying to understand, of seeking clarification, that helps the person know that we’re engaged. And that we know their feelings are valid, even if we don’t fully understand them yet. And that’s okay. We don’t have to instantly understand. 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 from siblings. So, “I hate my sister!” Okay? So, this is one that some of us have heard. And it can spark this kind of protective instinct that can end up bringing more charge to an already charged situation. But if instead we can hear that type of language and come into the room like, “Whoa, how is everybody? It sounds like maybe you’ve had enough. Are you wanting to be alone?” And then that kind of questioning can lead the child. Maybe they say, “Well, I don’t want to be alone, but she’s not listening to me,” or whatever the thing is. And then we might say, “Okay. So, I really want to understand. Is it about what you’re playing now? Or that she’s not hearing you? Or you’re done with this game? What do you need her to hear?”
And then that drills us down to the issue and it becomes something that we can actually find a solution for. Because, “I hate my sister,” doesn’t really provide a path forward, but dismissing that with, “Oh, but she means well,” or, “You love her,” or, “She loves you,” or even worse, judgmental language like, “That’s not nice. We don’t say things like that,” all of those 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, and then they can move forward with some solutions. If it’s about listening, we can help facilitate a conversation that moves us towards a solution. And just in case HALT is involved, which we talked about, hungry, angry, lonely, tired, I would just move those discussions to the kitchen for a snack while we sorted things out, just in case hungry was involved.
And I also wanted to be really aware of avoiding dismissing statements like, “You’re too sensitive,” or, “This is not a big deal.” Or, “Why do you get so upset at everything?” Or, “You can’t take a joke?” These are things that some of us heard, especially sensitive people, in our childhood, and it just feels terrible. All of those statements and anything like them are so disconnecting. And it just leaves the person not feeling understood, not connected, and you feel like you’ll never be connected, because they’ll never understand you.
So instead, we can offer kindness. We can 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.
But 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 be charged, because like you said, people may think, “But I don’t want to validate these big emotions, it’s just gonna be more.”
And maybe it seems like a paradox, but it isn’t, and you mentioned it too. 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 them find the tools to move forward and to even understand their own emotions, because that’s what it’s all about for little kids, especially as they’re trying to understand the emotions.
Everything feels big and they want to know what’s happening? How do I move through it? Because it can feel so unsettling and scary even. And by being validated and heard, it allows them to process all the big things that they’re feeling. And it can be really valuable in the process of helping them find words.
For example, we’ve talked about before, angry behavior is often an expression of another emotion. It could be frustration, like you talked about with the video games, or it could be hurt or loneliness. And digging into that can help a person move forward. So often, when we uncover that underlying emotion, it removes the block that we’re seeing. People can stay stuck in that emotion, that kind of higher level, that angry type of emotion until that underlying emotion is identified and understood. And they really don’t even understand why they’re stuck there until we start to identify it.
Reflecting back what you’re seeing, being open and kind, and helping them uncover that underlying need and feeling, gives them the tools to excavate that for themselves as they grow.
And the more clearly we can express our needs, the easier time we have in all of our relationships. So, it’s such a valuable skill to practice with our kids, both for their growth and honestly for our own.
PAM: Yeah. Really. We all grow. Getting into these conversations and really seeing through their eyes and validating their experiences can help us learn so much as well.
So, something else that can trip us up as we try to validate our children’s experience and emotions is projecting this moment into the future. When we start thinking things like, “Are they going to get this upset every time they don’t get their way?” we can feel like we need to nip this in the bud right now. And that is fear talking.
You can feel the or else hanging off the end of that thought, right? Or else they’ll still be acting this way when they’re 25 and they won’t have any friends. When fear gets into the mix, tunnel vision soon follows, and we are much less able to see the bigger context of the current moment.
Where can we most help them understand themselves and explore other ways to navigate these kinds of challenges? Well, right now, in this moment. Projecting into the future definitely makes this much harder.
And one other thing I want to mention explicitly is that the ways we validate different people can look very different. Which, I mean, if you’ve been listening to this podcast past for any length of time is not much of a surprise right now. How can we help THIS child feel seen and heard in THIS challenging moment? So, for some it’s about joining them where they are, reflecting back to them, our understanding of them in this moment, validating the intense feelings they’re feeling as they’re feeling them. That helps them feel seen, heard, and more able to get to a place where they’re ready to move forward.
For others, it may be about holding space for them without words, in the heat of the moment. Conversations are for later, but even holding that space can feel validating to someone. Our calm presence can communicate that they aren’t being judged for having these big emotions or being rushed to move through them to make others comfortable.
The energy of a loving and compassionate space being held for them can feel validating, and then more validation and processing can happen in conversation later when the intensity has passed. So either way, in those later conversations, we can also ask them what they’d like us to do to help them next time they’re feeling overwhelmed with big emotions. We can try that next time and then check in again to see how it felt. We can tweak it and try the new plan next time, over and over.
I just think it’s so helpful because when people start thinking about validation, so often they think it’s something they need to say, but our actions, even silent actions, can be validating as well.
ANNA: Oh my gosh, yes. And I feel like this is where it’s so important to know your child, your partner, and honestly, yourself. Because, for many people in the heat of an upset, they don’t want words, but they also often don’t want to be left alone. 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 the emotion, it just feels terrible.
So, if instead we can show that unconditional love and stay present, it helps the big emotions wash through without the added weight of, how are they landing on this person 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 that calm presence, like you mentioned. Some may want to physically be held, others may just want us 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 we can tell there’s some sensory overwhelm in that particular situation. Or maybe it’s clearing the room if they’re not able to move, maybe shepherding other people out to something fun so that we can bring the sensory input down in that way. It can be getting food and water.
We had this thread in the Living Joyfully Network where we talked about what we needed personally to feel heard and validated and seen in an upset, and it was fascinating. Everyone was so different. I personally 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 and didn’t want them to stay, which I thought was fascinating and a little bit confusing.
But it’s so important and it’s why it’s so helpful to have these conversations outside of the heat of the moment, so there just aren’t misunderstandings and we can be present for the people we love in the way that they need us, not necessarily in the way that would feel good to us. 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 we all are, and recognizing those differences in us as adults who were the people that were responding, 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 for them and the things that they need in any given moment.
And for people who prefer non-verbal, again, there’s so many things you can do. So, whenever I hear someone say, “Well, my child doesn’t like to be validated,” I’m just like, hmm. We need to get curious and tweak our approach a little bit, because it’s probably not tuning into what feels validating to them. Because I think what’s often easiest is we do what would feel validating to us in the moment. Again, we’re putting ourselves in their shoes versus seeing through their eyes, because I will firmly stand on the belief that every human wants to be heard and seen in a way that feels good to them.
And so, let’s figure out what helps them feel good. Let’s figure out what helps them move through an upset. And we do that by having conversations outside of the heated moments and just learning about one another.
PAM: Exactly. I mean, learning how to validate my children was one of the biggest game changers in my relationships with them. I do think absolutely, we all want to feel seen and heard and loved for who we are. I mean, even for myself, any age, any age. I feel it makes all the difference when it comes to cultivating connection and trust in our relationships.
So, here are some questions to ponder this week around this idea. Number one, similar to a question from the previous validation episode, over the next couple of weeks, practice seeing moments through the eyes of your child, not just ones where they’re upset, but also ones where they’re excited or happy. Can you see why they are expressing that emotion in that moment? That should be fun.
Number two, do you find it hard, particularly with your children, to not project their behavior in this moment into the future? If so, take some time to ponder how that may interfere with navigating this moment and try out some new self-talk to help you transition back into the present moment.
ANNA: That’s an important one.
PAM: I know, right? Yes, that just got me thinking about all the times. That transition is very familiar, because it is so easy to go, oh my gosh, you know?
ANNA: Is it always going to be like this? No, just come back to the moment in front of you.
PAM: That’s where we can have the most impact.
ANNA: And the learning, right? That’s where the learning is on their part. On our part. That’s where the practice is. That’s where the trying on the tools are, and that’s how we shape the future, is by tending to the moment in front of us.
PAM: Exactly. Beautifully said. Okay. Number three, do big emotions feel triggering for you? It’s worth taking some time to dig deeper into that, to help detangle your feelings from their feelings, which can be really helpful when we’re trying to validate someone else. So, you can check out episode 21 to explore triggers specifically, if this is something that you’re finding as well.
PAM: Thanks so much, Anna, and thanks so much everyone for listening. We will see you next time!