by Nicole Roder, LCSW-C, DBT-LBC

Welcome to our latest blog post on a topic close to our hearts: Children’s Mental Health. As a dedicated mental health care practice, we understand the profound impact that emotional well-being has on our young ones’ development. Validating children’s feelings isn’t just about acknowledging their emotions; it’s about empowering them to understand and express themselves in a healthy, constructive way. It’s the cornerstone of building resilience, fostering empathy, and nurturing a positive self-image. Join us as we delve into the reasons why emotional validation is not only beneficial but essential for a child’s mental health journey.

 

Validation Definition

When we say the words “emotional validation,” we mean the act of communicating to a person that we understand how they feel, and that their feelings make sense. 

For children, emotional validation is a powerful way to help them understand and manage their feelings. It involves noticing whatever emotions your child is expressing–through words, actions, or tone of voice–and reflecting them back. Validating statements are non-judgmental and accepting by definition. They let the child know that their feelings are important and it’s OK to have them.  

 

Why Is Validation Important for Children’s Mental Health?

One of the best gifts you can give your child is to help them learn how to manage their emotions in a healthy manner. The most effective way to do that is through validation.

“In my opinion, validation is the single most powerful parenting tool we have,” says Rebecca Blake, LCSW-C, a DBT-Linehan Board of Certification, Certified Clinician™ and Co-Director of Gladstone’s DBT Program in Maryland. “Validation helps with promoting a positive relationship between parents and their children. Validation says ‘I hear you, I see you, what you have to say matters to me.’ And when children and teens feel heard, they can begin the process of regulating their emotions and solving the problem at hand from a wise-minded place.”

Emotional validation teaches your children that it’s OK to feel and express their emotions. When parents validate their kids’ feelings, they help them understand that it’s normal to sometimes feel upset, and there are healthy ways to handle it when you do.

“Validation helps with self esteem, overall confidence and empathy, which I believe is the key because it prepares them to be a future leader.” says Surbhi Khanna, MD, FAPA, President & Chief Medical Officer at Gladstone Psychiatry and Wellness. 

 

Here are 4 mental health benefits of validation for kids:

 

1. It promotes secure attachment and trust

Attachment refers to a child’s natural instinct to seek comfort from their parents or main caregivers. Secure attachment means that the child and parent have a bond where the child feels safe, supported, and connected. This allows them to express their emotions freely and trust that their parents will be there to help when they are upset. 

Research shows that kids and parents start forming their attachment styles during infancy. When parents validate a baby’s emotions by comforting them when they’re distressed and meeting their physical and emotional needs, the baby learns to trust them. This continues throughout childhood and even into adolescence and adulthood. When a person can express their feelings and trust that their closest loved ones will validate and support them, it strengthens those attachment bonds.

 

2. It helps with emotional regulation and children’s mental health

Some kids have really big emotions. When children show intense levels of anger, sadness, shame, fear, or other negative emotions, one effective way to help them come back to Wise Mind is to validate their emotions. In fact, research shows that validation improves emotional regulation for people feeling all sorts of negative emotions, especially those that may lead to aggression

This is because validation is like emotional education for kids. When children get emotional validation and guidance from their parents, they can learn coping strategies for expressing how they feel in a constructive way.

 

3. It improves self esteem and resilience

When parents allow their children to express their feelings and then ask questions to better understand the child’s reasons for feeling that way, it helps improve kids’ self esteem and resilience. This is because when kids hear that someone understands and accepts how they feel, it allows them to trust and accept themselves more. 

It also helps them build the coping skills they need to deal with these difficult emotions, improving their resilience. Research shows that this can protect kids from all sorts of common mental health problems, including depression and anxiety.

 

4. It can lead to better behavior

As mentioned above, validation has a powerful moderating effect on anger and aggression. Research shows that when parents stop invalidating their kids’ negative emotions and start validating them instead, aggressive behaviors, outbursts, and tantrums are significantly reduced. And don’t we all want that?

 

What If You Disagree with Your Child?

When we teach validation to parents, one of the most frequent questions we receive is, “What if I disagree with them and I don’t think their feelings make sense?” If you have that same question, we have good news for you. Validation is not “agreement” with your child’s argument or permission to break the rules. And we are not asking you to validate anything that is invalid, like rude or violent behavior.

For example, let’s say your teenager wants to go to a party with their friends, and you’ve said no because there won’t be any parents there and you know the other kids at the party have gotten in trouble for drinking and using drugs. Your teen might feel devastated at missing out on this party because, in their perspective, everyone is going and they will be iced out of their friend group if they miss it. They say that you’re the worst parent in the world, and that you would let them go if you loved them. 

You don’t have to agree with any of that in order to validate that it feels painful to your teen to miss out on the party. Remember, a person’s feelings are always valid, and they make sense based on something. Whatever your child is communicating to you, find their kernel of truth and validate it. 

 

How to Validate Emotions

  1. Pay attention to your child’s emotions. Notice what they’re communicating with words, facial expressions, tone of voice, and body language.
  2. Reflect back what you’ve heard by saying something like, “I hear you. It sounds like you’re feeling pretty upset about that.”
  3. Ask questions. It’s important to make sure that you’re understanding your child correctly. So if you think they seem sad, scared, or angry, ask if you’ve got the right impression. If you don’t, invite them to correct you.
  4. Let them know that their feelings make sense. There is always some reason that your child’s emotions make sense – feelings are always valid! Maybe it’s because the situation is truly upsetting, or maybe there’s some other reason, like the child had a similar experience before that didn’t turn out well. 
  5. Only validate the valid. You don’t have to agree with statements that aren’t true. For example, if your child says that they feel sad because all of their friends hate them, you can validate the sadness without agreeing that nobody likes them. 

 

 

 

 

Teaching Kids Self-Validation to Improve Children’s Mental Health

Self-validation is the feeling that your own emotions are important and accurate, and it feels amazing. It is an important skill to have, because it helps people to recover from invalidation and to self-regulate. 

So, if your child is feeling upset because someone said something invalidating to them, teach them to self-validate by checking the facts, and then say to themselves the same things they would say to validate someone else. 

Remember, self-validation is an  important tool for improving children’s mental health!

 

How Do I Find a Child Therapist Near Me?

We know that it is difficult to find a child therapist, psychiatrist, or child psychologist who accepts your insurance. At Gladstone Psychiatry and Wellness, we are in network with many major insurance plans, including CareFirst, Blue Cross/Blue Shield, Cigna and United Healthcare/Optum, and Johns Hopkins EHP. Our DBT program is in network with CareFirst only. 

We have offices in:

  • Baltimore, MD
  • Bethesda, MD
  • Columbia, MD
  • Frederick, MD
  • Hunt Valley, MD

 

If you are looking for mental health care in Maryland, Call us at 443-708-5856 or visit our website to inquire about an appointment today.