When parents learn how to validate their kids’ feelings, kids become less defiant and more pleasant to be around. And for kids who have an eating disorder, validation can support the recovery process.
Validating a child’s feelings is incredibly simple, but it’s not natural for many of us. Most parents were raised in emotionally-distant households. Few of us experienced being validated as children, which is why we’re not likely to do it naturally for our own kids.
Luckily, it’s easy to learn how to validate our kids’ feelings, and the benefits are often spectacular.
Why validation is a powerful parenting strategy
When parents validate kids’ feelings, they create conditions that build:
- Emotional Regulation: Children who believe their feelings are valid and important are able to regulate their emotions more easily. This means they aren’t subject to constant mood shifts and emotional outbursts. Additionally, when they do experience these, they can recover faster.
- Emotional Resilience: Parents who validate their kids raise children who feel accepted and worthy of love. This makes them emotionally resilient and less vulnerable to addiction and mental disorders.
- Stronger Relationships: Parents who validate their kids build a stronger relationship with them. Validation makes your kids feel more connected to you, and you also feel more connected to them.
- Easier Kids: Kids who feel emotionally validated by their parents are easier to parent. They feel safe and secure in the relationship. Therefore they are more likely to trust that parents have their best interests at heart.
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- Calming strategies
How to validate your kids’ feelings
Any parent can learn how to validate their kids’ feelings. It just takes some patience and practice. Here’s what to do:
- Notice: You can’t validate a feeling unless you recognize that your child is having a feeling. Often feelings make us uncomfortable, so we try to dismiss or ignore them. Instead, notice that a feeling is happening.
- Regulate Yourself: It’s likely that you have feelings about your child’s feelings. So take a moment to calm yourself down. It’s very hard to validate your child if you’re upset. Try the following steps:
- Name: It helps to give a name to the feeling you think your child is having. Start with the big 3: anger, fear, and sadness. Then go beyond these feelings with additional words like disgust, shame, and jealousy. Giving a name to the feelings can help contain them so they don’t feel quite so overwhelming.
- Source: Try to identify the source of the feelings. It may be obvious – maybe you said they can’t attend a party. But try to think through additional sources. For example, maybe they told their friends they were going to the party. Now they feel embarrassed that they can’t go.
- Center: Now that you know the name of the feeling and the likely sources of the feeling, take a deep breath and center yourself. Only then should you provide validation.
- Validate: Provide a statement that shows you understand and accept the feelings. Here are some examples:
- It makes sense that you feel that way.
- I can understand why you feel that way.
- I’m here for you.
- I bet you’re frustrated!
- I hear you.
- I’m sorry that you’re frustrated with me.
- I imagine this is really hard for you.
- Thank you for telling me how you feel.
- Your emotions make sense.
You may feel very strange making validating statements at first. And your child may be surprised when you do it for the first time. But stick with it. Over time, it will feel natural and normal, but it takes practice! Just try to find a validating statement that feels authentic in the moment. Remember that you’re not judging the feeling as good or bad; you’re just accepting the fact that the feeling exists.
3 validations for kids who have eating disorders
If you have a child who has an eating disorder, then learning to validate your kids’ feelings is even more valuable. Here are three validations that are helpful for kids who have eating disorders.
1. You are loved
All of us long to be loved and to feel worthy of love just for the simple fact that we exist in the world. And the most foundational love of all comes from our parents. Our parents should love us for the simple reason that we are their children.
Many of us grew up in families that assumed love was implied, but it was rarely explicitly spoken. But children long to hear words about how loved and special they are. There is no risk of over-loving our kids. We don’t need to hold off on telling them we love them for any reason.
Here are some validating phrases to say to children to express your love:
- I love you just as you are.
- You are worthy of my time and interest, and I’m happy to support you.
- I am here for you.
- I know who you are and I accept you as you are.
- Your emotions are not too much for me; they make sense to me.
- I am here, you’re safe, I won’t go away no matter how big your feelings get.
2. You don’t have to be perfect
Some parents believe that their children should look a certain way or get certain grades or play a certain sport. To reinforce achievement goals, these parents may withdraw affection or criticize their children when they do not perform well. These parents are not monsters – they are operating under the assumption that we must push and drive our children to succeed.
However, children cannot separate their performance from who they are as people. As a result, children who believe they must perform a certain way to gain their parents’ love tend to become perfectionists, which sets them up for eating disorders and can ironically hold them back from achieving. The more a child fears
Here are some validating phrases to say to children to express your acceptance:
- Mistakes are just a sign that you’re trying. They are not a sign that you can’t do it!
- Screwing up is OK and doesn’t make you less lovable.
- It’s OK not to be perfect, it doesn’t affect how I feel about you.
- I will never be ashamed of you for trying something difficult.
- I’m proud of you for taking that risk.
- You acted out because you were in so much pain, not because you’re a bad person.
- I love you no matter what … it isn’t contingent on making good grades or doing things “right.”
3. Your body is fine
Some parents believe that “good parents” should control and manage their children’s food and bodies. Our society, driven by diet culture, has sent many messages to parents suggesting that they are “bad” parents if they don’t worry about and try to influence their child’s weight. Parents worry they will be criticized if a child gains weight or lives on the higher end of the weight scale.
Children cannot separate their body from who they believe they are as a person. Parents who focus on their child’s appearance and criticize or feel badly about their children’s bodies pass along a deep sense of unease and discomfort that is fertile ground for eating disorders. Even if the parent never says anything out loud, children can sense parental disapproval and will feel bad about their bodies and themselves.
Here are some validating phrases to say to children to express that you accept their body as it is:
- I trust your body to grow exactly as it needs to grow.
- Your body is good the way it is.
- I love you exactly as you are.
- You are worthy of love regardless of the shape of your body.
- Your weight doesn’t determine the love you receive.
- You can pursue health at any size.
- What you eat does not determine your worth.
- You don’t need to change your body to be loved.
- Your body has to gain weight to grow, especially during puberty. It is not a sign that something is wrong.
Validation is good parenting
Validating our kids is soothing to their souls, and can help them grow strong and healthy – emotionally and physically. It may feel awkward, but remember to keep trying. Parenting a child with an eating disorder is hard, but validation helps a lot!
Ginny Jones is on a mission to empower parents to help their kids recover from eating disorders, body image issues, and other mental health conditions. She’s the founder of More-Love.org, an online resource supporting parents who have kids with eating disorders, and a Parent Coach who helps parents who have kids with mental health issues.
Ginny has been researching and writing about eating disorders since 2016. She incorporates the principles of neurobiology and attachment parenting with a non-diet, Health At Every Size® approach to health and recovery.