By: Tammy Sassoon

“Validation”is an important technique that all parents should understand and use.

When you are having a negative emotional response to a situation, a good friend who knows how to validate your feelings can really help you feel better. For example, if you call your friend to tell her about a frustrating day that you had, you will likely become a lot calmer just by hearing her say, “Wow, that sound horrible.” Feeling understood is a basic need that all human beings share, and so just hearing somebody understand your feelings can help you feel calmer and more at ease.

All of us – both adults and children – sometimes need to have our feelings validated. Therefore, the more you validate your child’s feelings and make him feel understood, the closer he will feel to you.

Let’sstudy the secret to utilizing this tool properly, so we know when and how to use it.

Is Your Child Being Rational or Emotional?

When a child (or an adult) speaks, he is coming from one of two possible places: either from his head, or from his heart. Youmust identify where the child is coming from in order to give an appropriate response. You can tell which mode the child is operating in – rational or emotional – by learning to recognize the voice and the face that the child uses in different contexts. Sometimes a child will ask in a calm, curious way, “When is dinner going to be ready?” and on other occasions he will ask in an angry way, “WHEN IS DINNER GOING TO BE READY!?”

In the first case, the child is simply seeking information; he is interested in knowing when his meal will be served. But in the second scenario, the child is not looking for information, but is expressing the fact that he is hungry, an uncomfortable feeling which he is having difficulty coping with.

Giving the
Appropriate Response

Once you have determined whether the child speaks from the head or from the heart, you can respond in a manner suitable for the child’s frame of mind.

The basic rule of thumb is: answer rationally if your child speaks from the head, validate if your child speaks from the heart.

If the child is speaking rationally, then an appropriate response would be, “At about seven o’clock.” But if the child is asking his question to express a difficult emotion – in this instance, the discomfort of hunger – then an appropriate response would be, “I see that you are very hungry,” validating his difficult emotions and assuring him that he is understood.

Getting it Wrong

Try learning to read your child’s face and to listen to his tone so you can correctly identify when he speaks from the mind and when he speaks from the heart. If you validate when your child is telling you something rational, he will think you are strange. If you answer rationally when your child is speaking from emotion, he will feel that you don’t understand him. Your child’s feeling misunderstood can seriously damage your relationship with him, and undermine his compliance. The secret, then, is to answer when the child is speaking rationally, and validate when the child is speaking emotionally.

Within a few days of doing this, parents generally notice a calmer, happier, and more compliant child.

The Validation Technique

Once you decide to validate, do the following:

1.Look at the child while he is speaking.

2.Say “Oh,” “Hmm”, “Aha,” or “You seem __________” (fill in the blank with a description of his emotion, such as “frustrated,” “hungry,” “upset,” or “embarrassed”).

Here’s an example of putting the validation technique into practice. Your child comes to you crying, saying that his sister knocked down his Lego structure, which you know he had worked very hard to build. Based on your child’s facial expression and tone and voice, you can clearly tell that he is coming from an emotional place.

Your instinct might be to explain to your son that these things sometimes happen, and to help him build another one. This response might be well-intentioned, but it will be ineffective, for the simple reason that rationally explaining things to a child who is reacting emotionally never works.

The correct approach to take, one you’ve determined that the child is reacting emotionally, and not rationally, is to say, “That must be very upsetting.” In all likelihood, you will soon notice your child’s crying begin to subside. And within just a few minutes, he should be able to calm himself down completely.

Two Steps to Effective Validation

Step One:Decide if your child is speaking from the head or heart. Look at the child’s face and listen to his voice to determine if his expression is emotional or rational.

Step Two:Answer rationally if the child is speaking from the head, and validate if the child is speaking from the heart.

Tammy Sassoon is a behavioral therapist and parenting coach. She gives live workshops as well as “train by phone” telecourses to teachers, principals, therapists, and parents,
in order to help them gain compliance from even the most oppositional children.
She can be contacted through her website,