As humans we are all about problem solving, that’s kind of our thing! Not sure how to solve that math equation- let’s find a YouTube video that explains it; forgot your scarf at Grandma’s, no problem, we have a spare! In fact, our ability to solve problems and creatively meet our needs is what has helped us survive and evolve as a species. But what about problems that aren’t so easily solved, or perhaps can’t be solved at all, at least in the moment? What do we do when the people in our life are sharing about a loved one’s illness, missing friends and family, feeling worried, things that we don’t have easy answers for? We often want to move into problem solving mode here, or downplay the problem, but listening, empathizing and reflecting someone’s experience is often much more impactful. This is where validation comes in!
Validation is where we recognize the emotions of another person and acknowledge them as important. It has been shown to be a powerful effective communication tool in helping people feel heard and supported when they are going through a challenging time.
Validation has two main steps:
- Identify the emotion someone might be feeling (hint, if you’re not sure, you can take a guess e.g., “I wonder if you’re feeling angry”)
- Justify, or acknowledge that it makes sense to you why they would feel that way (e.g., “You’re angry because they took your sweatshirt without asking first”).
See if you can spot the difference below between responses that validate someone’s challenges vs. responses that try to problem solve or downplay the challenge. Which one feels better?
“I know you’re upset about your mark on your test, but you’ll make it up on the next one” vs. “Wow, you studied a lot for that test and it’s really disappointing to not get the grade you were hoping for”
“You are really missing your friends on your hockey team right now and it’s really tough to not be able to see them more often” vs. “You’ll get to play hockey and see your friends next season”
“All of the information we’re hearing in the news can make you feel pretty worried” vs. “You need to learn to not let stuff bug you so much”
Validating your children and teens experiences is one of the most powerful tools you have to support them (and each other!) during challenging times.
We can also validate children’s emotion/behaviourl experiences and understand their reactions even if we don’t agree with them. This is helpful in supporting children in coping with big emotions, it also helps to build their emotional vocabulary to be better able to express themselves!
e.g., “You are angry with me because I asked you to help clean up and you were having fun playing PS4” vs. “I don’t care if you are upset, these are the rules”
Ask yourself, there is no wrong answer
Is there a time someone has validated your experience during a challenging time? How did that feel?
Connecting to our faith:
“Instead of offering an opinion or advice, we need to be sure that we have heard everything the other person has to say. ... Often the other spouse does not need a solution to his or her problems, but simply to be heard, to feel that someone has acknowledged their pain, their disappointment, their fear, their anger, their hopes and their dreams." (Pope Francis)
God remains with us always and is our most important listener. We can offer the words of our heart to God in prayer, putting our trust in Him in times of need. During challenging times, we can remind ourselves that God is our constant, resting in the comfort that His “steadfast love endures forever” (1 Chronicles 16:34).
Let us pray: Loving God, help us to be inspired by your example to serve others. May we be a place of healing and safety for youth, nurturing and supporting the growth of wisdom and emotional awareness in their lives.
Further Learning & Resources:
For Teachers, Parents & Caregivers:
Click here for a podcast by clinical psychologist, Dr. Lisa Damour, where she talks about validation as a key resource for parents and caregivers in our “toolbox for terrible times”.
Employees of LDCSB checkout WorkLifeHealth from EAP Provider Morneau Sheppell
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