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Best Skill for Parents: Validate!

Validation is the First and the Most Essential Step in Solving Any Problem

“Help! My teenager is upset about something another kid said at school. I want to help them stand up for themselves, but I also feel like they are so upset they might have a panic attack. Nothing I do seems right.”

I can remember this video that circulated on the Internet of a girl who had a nail stuck in her forehead. She was sitting with her boyfriend saying she had a horrible headache. Every time he started to talk, she would say, “Please don’t try to fix it! Just be here with me! Try to understand!”

While the video was a comical way to help couples in relationships, it also highlighted a truth we all need to remember: People in a crisis situation just want to be heard. That’s their primary need. 

As parents, we feel we need to fix, problem solve, troubleshoot, teach valuable life lessons, tell a relatable story, distract and other things. But in the middle of an upset, these tactics can be anxiety provoking.

Hearing what you did as a child can seem irritating because we aren’t talking about you as a child. 

Being told they need to “stand up for themselves” could insinuate you think they are doing something wrong, that they are passive or even the cause of their own problem.

Having someone jump in and fix it, might also make someone feel belittled, or as if you think they can’t solve it on their own.

What can you do instead?

VALIDATE THEIR FEELINGS.

What is validation and how can I make sure I am doing it right?

First you want to reflect back exactly what you heard. 

“So it sounds like you were sitting in class and you heard this girl saying something about you.”

“Yes,” your child says. 

Every time you get a yes, imagine a soothing, calm water going all over your loved one. Yes, yes, and more yes. 

This is what you want because it stops the continual self-attacks kids do when they are in the middle of a problem.

Now ask for more information.

Parent, “Tell me more. Who is this girl? What did she say?”

The parent’s underlying conversation is, “I am interested. I want more details.”

The child says, “I heard someone making fun of my new haircut. She said it makes me look dumb. She said I should’ve left it long.”

Painful stuff.

What can you say here? There are many options. Some parents might want to jump on their email and report the student. Some might be tempted to say, “Oh, well what does she know!” Others might say, “Well, why don’t you tell her how that hurt your feelings?” Still others might try say, “Don’t worry so much about what other people think.” (This blames the upset person for their reaction which isn’t validating.)

What’s a validating statement here?

You could simply say, “That sounds painful! It sounds like she hurt your feelings.”

Validation, when you are the one giving it, might seem too simple or obvious. It is simple and obvious. But it also works.

Try to think of validation like medicinal balm. When someone has a healing balm, they suddenly have ideas about what to do and start to feel better. They do it on their own.

Next you could say, “Tell me more.”

This problem is a good one because there really isn’t anything that can be done. Someone has a critical opinion and said it out loud. Teens are incredibly concerned about their appearance, the appearance of others, and who is doing the appearance thing “right”.

It’s a normal part of the developmental stage they are in. 

More examples of validating statements:

Tell more more about this girl. Who is she?

Just listen to the answer.

Keep asking questions. Keep your teen talking. Find out who their allies are at school. Just keep them talking. How long have they known this girl? Do they have any history?

Let them get to some of the soothing statements on their own. If you keep them talking, they might say something like, “Sarah has the same haircut and I like her hair.”

Good.

Or you might find your teenager saying, “I don’t even like this girl’s hair so I am not sure why she feels the need to talk about mine.”

Good.  (And you didn’t have to say it. The self-soothing skill is being exercised just by you getting them to talk. They are practicing self-soothing.)

The point of validating is not buying into the problem itself. If you said, “Well, don’t worry, your hair will grow,” that implies there’s a problem. If you say, “Who cares what she thinks?” That’s the same as saying, “You are wrong for feeling this way” because obviously they do care and caring is normal.

I recently sat down with someone who’d experienced a horrible trauma. She was only a few weeks out from her trauma. 

I sat quietly. She said that some people are saying things like, “Well, you’ve got to just keep going.”

It felt to her like they were saying, “Don’t feel those feelings; just keep moving as if it didn’t even happen.”

I’m fairly sure the people telling her this just didn’t know the best thing to say. People often make very innocent statements when trying to help, but the statements imply something they didn’t mean to imply.

Validating takes practice. Here’s a video to help if you want to learn more.

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Free Clear Mind Therapy provides in-person therapy in Fishers & Indianapolis and online therapy across Indiana. Specializing in anxiety therapy for teens, adults, and kids.

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