How to Validate Without Sounding Fake
I often hear parents say that validating their child can feel a bit forced, and that they are unsure when and how to validate in a more natural way. Instead of building a stronger connection with their child they are often met with resistance and further avoidance of novel tasks. I'll share an example of a recent time in my own experience where validation seemed to be needed by my little boy.
I embarked on the milestone of teaching my four year old how to ride a bike. As I tailed awkwardly alongside his new Spiderman bike, I was preparing myself for how these novel situations tended to go – for him to get stuck on a negative thought. He beamed with pride when he started to build momentum, until we got about three houses down the road and the handlebars began to swivel. This first challenge was met with resistance, “I hate this bike”. The next challenge required him to push the pedals and build momentum. This left him overwhelmed with frustration. He attempted for a few moments before throwing his new bike down and stating, “I can’t do it”.
Here are some tips I have found helpful when trying to emotionally connect without sounding like a phoney.
Timing is everything! The Whole-Brain Child by Daniel Siegel and Tina Bryson explains that when a child is emotionally flooded reasoning doesn’t work. You have to wait it out for the ‘right-brain emotional tsunami’ to peak and then come back down before addressing your child’s left-brain’s ability to problem solve. So don’t say much at all and stay right near your child until they are almost back to their emotional baseline.
It is hard not to become triggered by our children when they are being irrational and their behaviour is uncontained. As a result we often say the words without tuning in to the feelings. If our body language doesn’t match what we say we won’t be connected. Our goal is for him or her to “feel felt” and experience that we “get it”.
Even when it is time to validate, don’t use too many words. Keep your message clear and simple focusing on finding the exact feeling they are feeling, e.g. “You are annoyed you can’t do it yet”. Then say no more!
Don’t change your style of relating. If you don’t usually say things like “I can see you are upset” don’t start saying it in an attempt to connect. Kids will not respond to a prescribed way if it doesn’t feel authentic.
Address the ‘fixed mindset’ as often as possible. That is, when your child says “I can’t do it”, try to correct them every time with the idea that everyone can grow, e.g. “you can’t do it yet”.
Respond with empathy rather than sympathy. Empathy is sending your child the message that you are right there alongside them, whereas sympathy reinforces them as a victim.
Do not dwell and indulge the negative feelings. Once you have acknowledged the feelings and attuned to your child start the process of returning to the task they gave up on. This is where making them laugh can make all the difference!