Updated: May 31
When we validate our child's feelings, we confirm what they are feeling is accepted, normal and that although we don't necessarily agree with their choice of words or the way they have chosen to express those feelings, what it does, is, allow them an understanding that all feelings are valid, that everyone has these unsettling, upsetting, feelings and big emotions and they need not feel shame or discomfort within their self because of this. By validating their emotions, it takes away the child's innate desire to fight or flee anything they deem as a threat; embarrassment, punishment, judgment, humiliation and shame.
My son is impulsive and it can get him into trouble at times. He's not bad, he doesn't swear and to the most part, he admits when he's wrong. Both my children attend a weekly course at an outdoor activity centre; they learn how to kayak. Last session, my son (who I've mentioned before, has ADHD & ASD) made an impulsive comment to his sister across the loch, unfortunately, another child picked up the comment and thought it was directed at them, a serious and misfortune misunderstanding. After the session the child told her parent's about what had happened, my son, wanting to right the situation darted from the loch straight to where the parent and the child were talking and tried eagerly to explain and apologise. The parent, however, wouldn't let him speak and shut down his attempts of an apology. By using the words 'just stop talking' and 'leave us alone, I don't want to hear it', my son was left frustrated, embarrassed and felt punished. Without the chance to right his wrong, these comments played on his mind for days. Without warning, and out of context, he would ask a question about why she spoke to him that way, why did she not let him explain?.
To a child with an impulsive mind and big heart, it can be confusing at times and difficult for him to understand his words have consequences, whether they were meant that way or not.
The way this parent chose to respond, to a child wanting only to right a wrong, trying to apologise, left him feeling shut down which triggered his fight emotion. As adults and parents, how we respond to a child's emotions are crucial, we are the influence, we can either build on their urge to fight or flee or we can take that urge away! We have to set the tone, we have to show our children how to take control of their feelings, to allow, feel and be aware of them but not to succumb to them. It's our job to show them that we are not their threat. We do this by validating their feelings and their outward emotions and by telling them we understand their behaviours (even though we may not agree with them - validation does not mean we have to agree).
To validate is to understand, to emphasise and acknowledge.
A better choice of words this parent could have used; 'I can see this is important to you and I dont want to stop you, but my child is really upset right now and I would like time to comfort her. I would really like to understand what you want to share so maybe we can talk later'.
This comment would validate his high energy emotions, acknowledge the urgency in his voice and actions and show understanding of the situation at hand. These words stem feelings of safety which shrink the urge to fight and flee, it grows feelings of support and understanding allowing them to see our influence
It allows time to calm and when children are calm they are more willing to explore their feelings, the behaviour they displayed and the consequences of their actions and it's much easier for them to see the bigger picture.