Youth who struggle with intense emotions tend to respond well when caregivers use validation. Validation acknowledges thoughts and feelings regardless of whether they are logical or accurate. By acknowledging these feelings while still requiring children to act appropriately, youth learn the difference between what they feel and what they do. It helps them learn to identify, appropriately express, and effectively deal with emotions. This leads to self-confidence, better relationships, and better behavior. When caregivers use validation, youth are more likely to open up to and accept guidance from the caregiver. Emotions become less intense because the youth feels heard without having to escalate the emotional intensity.
Validating is when caregivers let youth share their thoughts and feelings and the caregiver acknowledges those thoughts and feelings without criticism, judgement, or rejection. It is not comforting or praising the youth, although those can be helpful, too. It is not agreeing with the youth or like the youth’s thoughts, feelings, or behaviors. It also is not letting the youth do whatever he or she wants. It simply is letting the youth know you understand what he or she is feeling is real to him or her in that moment. That helps the youth learn that emotions and behavior are separate and that emotions are not wrong, but actions can be wrong and thoughts can inaccurate even though they feel very real. It is essential to teach youth how to appropriately express and cope with those emotions, regardless of the caregiver’s perception of their accuracy.
Validation can be difficult, particularly in the heat of the moment. It can be an effective way to support youth and to model effective interpersonal skills for them to learn. When caregivers validate youths’ feelings, it opens the door to teaching children how to effectively cope with feelings without having to change the situation or fix the “problem.” This is important because many times in life upsetting situations cannot be changed or fixed. Validation does not involve talking children out of feelings because denying feelings tends to cause them to come out in other, unhelpful, ways rather than effectively dealing with them head on. Validating and then letting youth work things out teaches them that we have faith in their coping abilities so they grow in their confidence.
Validation requires giving your full attention. This includes removing distractions, making eye contact, nodding your head, and other ways of showing that you are really listening. Validation involves reflecting back what you see and hear. That is, commenting on what you are hearing and observing such as through saying, “It sounds like …” “It seems…” “What I’m hearing…” Validation also involves trying to state what the child is feeling and wanting. Really try to put yourself in the youth’s shoes and observe what the child is saying and doing in light of what you know about the youth. Putting a name to feelings and needs or talking about what the youth wants even if it is impossible shows you understand and provides a foundation for possible future problem solving. It is okay to ask questions to make sure caregivers understand the youth’s perspective or to allow the youth to provide correction when the caregiver misunderstands. That is how communication is learned. Caregivers can let the youth know that the emotions are okay and make sense in that situation. This is acceptance that allows the youth to begin to deal with the emotions in a healthy, effective way. Validation also involves showing your concern and that you are empathizing or experiencing the emotion along with them. It is okay to even mention having felt similarly or dealt with similar situations, although the focus should stay on the youth. Validation is most effective when done with genuineness and realness. Emotions do not always resolve quickly and youth pick up on adults being fake, which is not validating.