The way parents and carers respond to the emotions of children and teenagers can impact their self-worth and ability to regulate emotions. These psychology tips may help you to avoid common mistakes and support healthy development.
We all want our children to grow up with a healthy sense of self, from forming their own beliefs and opinions to trusting their own thoughts, feelings and decisions. We hope they’ll be able to validate their own self-worth without relying on external prop-ups such as compliments or social media likes. It is also a common parenting goal to help children to learn to regulate their own emotions and behaviour. However, fostering these skills and attributes in children and adolescents can be trickier than it seems. As parents, we may intend to be supportive but unknowingly make mistakes that undermine a child or adolescent’s self-concept and self-esteem. So how can you help to cultivate a child’s ability to self-regulate and self-validate?
Children learn from their parents and other adult role models. Therefore, it’s important to demonstrate or model validation to children and adolescents. Fundamentally, this means helping a young person to feel understood and validating their feelings (the opposite of validation, invalidation, occurs when we dismiss or minimise feelings). An example is curiously listening without judgment when a child is anxious or upset – even if you’re tempted to minimise or dismiss your child’s feelings as ‘silly’ or ‘over the top’. This may be as simple as saying “I understand that you feel very angry right now.” It is implicitly giving them permission to feel what they feel and to be themselves, which also helps to foster healthy self-esteem. When practising validation, make a point of recognising and naming specific feelings or emotions, which will help children to learn to identify their own emotions.
Through this, a child will learn to accept and validate their own internal experiences and to express feelings in a balanced, regulated and healthy way rather than being ashamed of their feelings and, potentially, acting them out through poor behaviour. When practising this (and it may take disciplined practice, which is why we’ve compiled the below list of helpful validating statements), it is important to recognise the difference between validating a child’s emotional experience and encouraging expression, and giving them free rein to behave or interact inappropriately without intervention. In fact, setting rules and boundaries is also a key aspect of validation and instilling self-regulation. If you’re not sure where to start, familiarise yourself with these ready responses and adapt them as needed.
5 ready validation responses
- “You seem/I can see that you are sad/upset, frustrated/angry.”
- “Feeling angry/sad/scared makes sense given what you just experienced”
- “I wish I could help to make things better for you right now. I am here for you.
- “Please tell me what’s happening for you. I’m here to listen.”
- “I can tell you are struggling with this. It’s okay to feel difficult feelings and sit with them.”
If your child or teen struggles with emotion regulation or low self-worth or self-esteem, consider reaching out to a child and adolescent psychologist, who can help them (and you) to implement practices for good emotional health and development.