My daughter was frustrated at messing up the chords I was teaching her. She threw her guitar to the floor. “I can’t do it!” she said. I immediately went into my spiel about how I learned guitar on my own when I broke my leg as a kid, and if I could do that, she could learn a couple of chords. That upset her more because I was comparing her to me. It wasn’t until I told her it’s OK to be frustrated that she settled down. I told her I expected her to get it wrong at first because that is how she will learn to play. She took a deep breath after that and picked her guitar back up.
Our kids have big feelings but don’t always know what big feelings mean. They will look to others to interpret those feelings if we don’t step in and validate them first. Here’s how to validate your child’s feelings.
1. Communicate at your child’s level.
Use simple language when talking to your kids about their feelings. Start by labeling what they’re feeling: “I understand you’re angry.” “You seem upset.” “You sound frustrated.” If you get the label wrong, the good thing is they’ll correct you. “I’m not angry, just sad.” Tell your kid it’s OK to be sad. And then help figure out why he or she is unhappy.
Stay at your kids’ level of understanding. You may have to be super simple for your younger children and more rational with your teens. “Dude, that’s the worst.” That may all be all you need to say to validate your teen’s disappointment after a fight with a friend. Your young daughter may need a story to help her understand what she feels. But all kids need their feelings validated because it makes them feel seen and heard. Communicating at their level tells them you understand.
2. Empathize with him or her.
If they are suffering, suffer with them. If they are rejoicing, rejoice with them. Whatever the scenario, enter into their emotions so they understand it’s OK to feel that way. If your son wins the big game, celebrate with him. I’ll never forget when I won a free throw contest at my school and nobody in my house cared. I brought home a trophy, but no one matched my excitement. It felt like I had lost. Don’t do that to your kids. By becoming attuned to your kids’ emotions, you show them their feelings are valid and that you genuinely care.We can’t validate our kids’ feelings if we aren’t truly listening to them.
3. Avoid distractions.
I saw distractions as a serious problem during a game that involved my daughter pretending to be me. She picked up an imaginary phone, pretending to scroll through it, saying, “Oh look, I’m Daddy, and I have to always look at my very important emails.” That hurt. My excessive phone usage communicated to her that I wasn’t available. Distractions damage communication, and we risk being emotionally unavailable when our children need us. Put away your phone, don’t look at your watch, and ask good questions to stay engaged. We can’t validate our kids’ feelings if we aren’t truly listening to them.
Sound off: What other ways can you validate your child’s feelings?
Huddle up with your kids and ask, “What has most excited or disappointed you this week?”