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Parenting

What Children Need Most From Parents May Not Be Love

The power of feeling understood.

Key points

  • By recognizing children's emotions, we contribute to the establishment of their secure emotional foundation.
  • Validating children's emotions fosters their healthy sense of self-worth.
  • Validating children's feelings contributes to the development of empathy and understanding.

Many times when I've conducted parent training seminars, I have included an exercise in which I would dim the lights and ask participants to listen to their parents' voices. Interestingly, when I brightened the lights to conclude the activity, I often saw reactions ranging from smiles to tears among the participants. Volunteers would describe the words or messages that had resonated with them over the years.

Most workshop participants, consistent with what I also hear from my counseling clients, suggested feeling loved by their parents. Yet when asked if they felt their parents truly understood them, most said they wished their parents would have given the time and attention to truly validate them. With this in mind, as a child, teen, and family psychologist, I believe that understanding our children is just as important—if not even more—than loving them.

If you disagree with me, that's fine. But just think about people you know who are miserable, yet likely received some level of love from their parents. They, however, likely maintain a narrative such as, "My parents say they loved me—but they could have shown it better if they had taken the time to show they knew me."

The Power of Parental Validation

Acknowledging and validating children's feelings is an essential aspect of nurturing emotional well-being, fostering resilience, and promoting healthy development. The significance of validating children's emotions lies in creating a supportive environment in which they feel understood, accepted, and equipped to navigate the complexities of their emotional landscape.

Children, like adults, experience a wide array of emotions, ranging from joy and excitement to frustration and sadness. These emotions are an integral part of their journey toward understanding themselves and the world around them. Validating a child's feelings involves recognizing and accepting the emotions they express, without judgment or dismissal. It is about conveying to the child that their feelings are valid and that it is OK to experience a range of emotions.

As I explain in 10 Days to a Less Defiant Child, if we listen to our children with the same level of attention that we'd give to a noted speaker, what a wonderful gift that would be to them. This is especially the case when as parents we have so many stimulating content options and notifications pinging to us from our phones.

The Benefits of Validating Children's Feelings

One of the primary benefits of validating children's feelings is the establishment of a secure emotional foundation. When children feel that their emotions are acknowledged and accepted, they develop a sense of emotional security. This security acts as a buffer against stress and adversity, enabling children to cope with life's challenges more effectively. By validating their feelings, caregivers and educators contribute to the development of resilient individuals who can adapt and bounce back from setbacks.

Furthermore, validating children's emotions fosters a healthy sense of self-worth. When children perceive that their feelings matter and are taken seriously, they internalize the message that they, as individuals, are valued. This positive reinforcement contributes to the formation of a strong and positive self-image, which is crucial for building confidence and self-esteem. Children who feel validated are more likely to develop a healthy sense of self and are better equipped to establish positive relationships with others.

In addition, the act of validating children's feelings promotes effective communication. When children are encouraged to express their emotions openly, they learn to articulate their thoughts and feelings. This enhances their ability to communicate with others, share their experiences, and seek support when needed. Effective communication skills are essential for building meaningful connections and navigating social interactions, both of which are crucial aspects of a child's development.

Moreover, validating children's feelings contributes to the development of empathy and understanding. When caregivers and educators validate a child's emotions, they model empathetic behavior. Children learn to recognize and understand the emotions of others, fostering the growth of compassion and empathy. This emotional intelligence is a valuable skill that not only enhances interpersonal relationships but also lays the foundation for social harmony and cooperation.

However, the importance of validating children's feelings extends beyond individual development; it has broader societal implications. A society that values and respects the emotions of its youngest members is likely to be more compassionate and empathetic. By teaching children that their feelings matter, we contribute to the creation of a future generation that is emotionally intelligent, understanding, and capable of building a more compassionate and inclusive world.

Final Thoughts

The importance of validating children's feelings cannot be overstated. It is a foundational element in nurturing emotional well-being, fostering resilience, and promoting healthy development. By recognizing and accepting children's emotions, we contribute to the establishment of a secure emotional foundation, enhance their sense of self-worth, promote effective communication, and cultivate empathy. Ultimately, validating children's feelings is an investment in the well-being of individuals and the collective emotional intelligence of society.

Facebook image: DimaBerlin/Shutterstock

References

Atzil, S., Gao, W., Fradkin, I., & Barrett, L. F. (2018). Growing a social brain. Nature Human Behaviour, 2, 624–636. https://doi.org/10.1038/s41562-018-0384-6

Critchley, H. D., & Garfinkel, S. N. (2017). Interoception and emotion. Current Opinion in Psychology, 17, 7–14. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.copsyc.2017.04.020

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