All parents say “I want to raise happy and confident children.”  But what does that really mean? And…how do we raise happy and confident children?

Would you believe the answer is actually really simple?

**We let them feel their feelings and we validate their feelings.**

No matter how insignificant it feels to us.

Validating simply means acknowledging. It means acknowledging without passing judgment. It is simply acknowledging that a feeling exists.

As parents, it’s easy to look at our children’s “problems” and shrug them off.  It’s easy to roll our eyes. We, after all, are busy worrying about bills, planning meals, doing laundry, transporting kids to where they need to be, providing childcare when we can’t be there…we are worried REAL problems.

Hold on for a second. Close your eyes. Do you remember being in elementary school? Middle School? High School? Do you remember what you worried about? Oh yeah…you worried about your clothes, your friends, your boyfriends, your girlfriends, your sports practices, the next party……..

Yes, those problems are REAL and those problems ARE significant. They may seem insignificant to us as adults because let’s face it, paying pills is a bit more important than what you are going to wear the next day. But not to our children. THESE are their worries and concerns.  With these worries and concerns come feelings and emotions.

**We need to let our children feel their feelings and we need to validate their feelings.**

No matter how insignificant it feels to us.

Feelings exist.  Feelings aren’t right or wrong, they just are.  What we think happened might be right or wrong (ex. you told your daughter she couldn’t go out until she did her chores but all she heard is that she can’t go out and she’s MAD), but FEELINGS ARE NOT RIGHT OR WRONG.  Your daughter is mad. She is ANGRY! She heard “I can’t go out.” That’s not what you said. You said she could go out after she finishes her chores. Her feelings about the situation are not right or wrong, they just exists. They are the feeling she is experiencing. Her idea of what happened, however, is actually incorrect.  Again, her feelings ARE NOT right or wrong. Feelings cannot be right or wrong.

Think about a time when you felt like your feelings were INvalidated. Yeah, a time that you thought someone was telling you that you SHOULDN’T feel a certain way. There are a lot of ways someone can tell you not to have a feeling. Maybe someone said to you “Stop crying!” or “Why are you so upset about that?” or “Stop being so mad and look at the good in the situation!” How did you feel?  Did you question yourself? Were you upset with yourself for having a feeling? Did you dismiss your feeling?  Shove it down or “sweep it under the rug?”

Telling a child his or her feeling is wrong is very invalidating. Telling a child to stop having a feeling is extremely invalidating. When we don’t validate our child’s feelings, our child thinks he or she is wrong. That child learns to ignore feelings, to stuff feelings, to push feelings aside.  Their self-confidence diminishes. Their happiness turns to sadness. Numbness often ensues. This lack of self-confidence can lead to all sorts of mental health concerns including depression, anxiety, eating disorders or substance abuse.

Whether your child admits it or not, your child is looking at you to help them learn how to be in the world. He or she is thinking “is it right that I’m feeling this? Let me run it by mom or dad…” this is probably completely subconscious and your child won’t ever admit having that thought, but that IS what is going on!

So how do you validate your child’s feelings?

LISTEN. This means stop what you’re doing and make eye contact with your child. Repeat what you hear. This way you make sure you actually heard the problem/concern AND you your child will know you were really and truly LISTENING. Ask your child what he or she needs.  Too often we jump to try to fix things. Sometimes that is not what our child needs. Sometimes our child just wants to explore his or her feelings or just wants to be heard. Don’t pass judgment. Be aware of the tone of your voice, your nonverbal communication and try to stay neutral. Identify the feeling. For example, “You feel angry.” Your child may say no…he or she may tell you that you are wrong. THAT’S OK! Your child is exploring feelings and trying to identify the correct one. By naming a feeling, even if it’s not the correct one according to your child, you are helping your child get in touch with and identify his or her feelings. This is a very valuable life skill! Rest assured…you do not have to be right all the time! It’s actually a valuable skill for your child to see you make a mistake. “OH! Mom’s not perfect! She’s still ok! I don’t have to be perfect all the time! “

Here’s an example of how to use validating statements:

Child: “I wanted macaroni and cheese for lunch, not a turkey sandwich!!!!!”

Invalidating (but often default) response:

Parent: “STOP WHINING AND COMPLAINING AND EAT!!! You should be happy you have food!”

Validating response:

Parent: “You’re angry. You’re disappointed. You didn’t get what you wanted.”

Another example:

Child: “I look awful in this outfit! I can’t go out like this!”

Invalidating (but often default) response:

Parent: “You look fine. You have clothes all over your floor you need to clean up. We need to l  eave now or we will be late.”

Validating response:

Parent: “You’re feeling unsure of the way you look. You’re nervous about appearance.”

I make it sound really simple, don’t I? It’s not. It takes time, effort and thought to change the way you interact with your kids (or anyone, for that matter). But you can do it!

Just remember: Let your child express his or her feelings both positive and negative. Don’t judge, don’t dismiss. Just give your child the space to FEEL his or her feelings and watch your child’s confidence grow.

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