“You don’t listen to me”
“You don’t understand me”
“You never hear me”
“You don’t know me”
“You don’t care”
Ouch! As a parent, these phrases are extremely hard and painful to hear from our children. We dedicate our lives to school pickups and drop-offs, chauffeuring to extracurricular activities, providing healthy lunches and dinners, making time for homework and projects, and much more. Hearing these phrases can be a huge damper, and they also may be necessary to examine to see if your child is crying out for more validation in their home environment.
I read a quote the other day that resonated with me it said, “Students who are loved at home come to school to learn, and students who aren’t come to school to be loved”. I have seen this testimony play out in a number of ways in my experience working with children, teens, and their families. Parents have the best of intentions to provide support, encouragement, and validation to their child, and it can also be one of the first things that falls to the wayside in the hustle and bustle of everyday life.
Validation is defined as, “recognition or affirmation that another’s feelings or opinion are worthwhile”. Note that validation is NOT defined as agreeing with, concurring too, or even encouraging the feelings or behavior of another. I’ve had many parents tell me that they are worried validation will create entitlement in their children. It actually is the exact opposite. Children who are not validated look for validation in negative places such as toxic relationships, substances, and negative friendships. You do not have to agree with your child to validate them. Validation is not encouraging those behavior and feelings, it is simply acknowledging that they are present.
So now that we know what validation is and is not, let’s think about what it looks like in the family. Children and teens are craving positive adult attention. If your child is saying the phrases above, they may not be getting the attention they are asking for and are acting out to gain any type of attention. After all, negative attention is better than no attention, right? As a parent is our responsibility to let our children know their voice matters, and we do that by validating their feelings, thoughts, and opinions.
A common way we invalidate our children is by forgetting to be present in moments which your child is reaching out for validation. Picture this. Your child comes home and begins to share about a kid in their class who is mean to them. You are in the middle of a very important email from work and decide not to look up from the computer, half listening to their story adding in “uh-huhs” and “oh really?” every once in a while. You may not be saying it or even mean it, but the message you are sending is “What you’re saying is less important than what I’m doing”. This message, if received often, can seriously affect your children’s emotional and mental well-being. I’ve had children and teens in my office or in session state that they would rather hold important information from their parents than share due to feeling a “burden” because of the lack of validation they receive at home, which is heartbreaking.
Another way validation is commonly missed is parents attempting to “fix” or “solve” all their children’s problems. When our children come to us with news it is the natural mother or fatherly response to want provide a solution. Although you are coming from a place of good intention, this can send the message that you have all the answers and you don’t want to listen to their feelings and opinions on the matter but put a Band-Aid on the issue. One way to help combat this is ask your child or teen, “Are you looking for my advice, or do you just want to vent right now?” This sends a clear message that your listening, present, and willing to provide whatever support your child is asking for in that particular moment.
Parents are rockstars in 2018. We do now more than ever to make sure our children are physically, emotionally, and mentally safe in our homes. It is easy to miss opportunities to validate your child, but with awareness and some attention we can utilize everyday moments to send the message our children’s voices and opinions matter by using these tools. Validating your child will increase your child’s self-esteem, awareness of self, emotional maturity, and decrease the likelihood for your child to engage in unsafe activities such as consuming violent media, substance use, and illegal activities as a teenager.
For more information on how you can validate your children contact:
Michelle Smith RMHCI, MS