Many neurodivergent kids, (individuals who differ in regards to sociability, learning, attention, and mood) may hear a lot of negativity and correction about things that may be difficult for them. Whether it be the test they failed, the homework they forgot to do, the clothes they put on backwards, or not being able to sit at the dinner table for longer than 2 minutes. Think about Gabriel, who has ADHD, and didn’t submit his math homework into the proper virtual portal but completed it perfectly…or Sarah who failed her math test because she was too anxious to focus on the material she studied all week ….or Johnny who has Autism and wants to make friends very badly but was told nobody wants to listen about his cool dinosaur facts. It’s important that we begin to recognize our role as adults, parents, and professionals in understanding and accommodating the experiences of these children. Learn more about neurodiversity HERE.
One thing many adults overlook is that our children are not trying to forget, fail, or do poorly. These activities are hard for our kids and they need support from us in order to succeed. Our children not only need, but deserve a loving, compassionate, and empathetic parenting approach. We need to incorporate validation into our daily interactions with our kids to help them learn and develop. Now, validation. What is it, why is it so important, and how can we give it?
What is Validation?
Validating a child means that you honor their experiences and stay in the moment with them. It is a way of showing you care and understand their feelings just the way they are. Validating does not mean fixing a problem or changing an emotion. While it can be incredibly hard to watch your kids struggle, it can be much more powerful to validate your child’s sadness rather than say “don’t be sad, it’s no big deal!” All emotions are valid, and kids need to be reminded of that. Validation builds trust and helps you to get to a solution more quickly. If you want to learn more about the magic of validation, click HERE.
Understanding, Validating, and Reframing:
While this may seem obvious, I can’t stress how valuable it can be to label emotions for kids. Kids can be feeling a whole lot of ways that may look like screaming, crying, aggression, elopement, ignoring, and more. While it can be hard not to turn the conversation into what they are doing wrong in the moment in handling their emotions, it’s important to label that emotion for a child. “Your body looks angry and upset! I’m sorry you’re feeling so mad.” Or “I can tell you must be feeling nervous about this test. I would be nervous too. Let’s work together to find a solution.” Before a person can move on, they need you to understand them and they need to understand themselves. We as adults can be so integral to that process with our kids. It may seem unnatural at first, but hey, as an adult, I can tell you the last thing I want to hear is, “calm down!” when I’m angry, and what I really want to hear is “You are carrying a lot, and it is okay to be upset.” Let’s help our kids be heard, after all, that’s all most people want.
As an OT, building rapport with my clients is always my first “treatment technique.” Before I can even begin to address the functional and skill-based goals they might have, I have to build a relationship and trust with them. One of the ways I do this is validating their feelings. When it’s time to leave the gym and they exclaim “NO, I don’t want to go!,” instead of pushing them through this transition with reminders and cues, I say, “I know it’s so hard to leave when we are having so much fun. I’m sad we are leaving too, and I can’t wait for next time. It’s time to put our shoes on though. I wonder if we should race to see who can get our shoes on faster?!” While this language does not work 100% of the time with all kids (what strategy does? We are humans not magicians!), I have seen a huge improvement in my children’s abilities to transition, even the kids who have trouble with executive functioning, shifting, emotional regulation, and flexibility.
How to Validate (Quick Action Steps):
- Stop and Listen: What is your kids actually trying to communicate to you when they have big emotions.
- Label the Emotion: Explain to your kid that they might be mad, sad, happy, worried, etc. and you can deduce that because of how they are acting. This way kids can start to connect their body feelings to emotions.
- Ask Wondering Questions: This can promote self-reflection in your kid. “I wonder…are you feeling silly or tired after school today?”
- Tell them “It’s Okay!”: It’s okay to have big emotions and feel anger, embarrassment, frustration, and anxiety. This is expected.
- Model: Our kids learn most by watching. Show them and label some of your own big emotions for them. Tell and explain to them tasks that are hard for you. Life is hard, and kids with learning challenges have more obstacles to overcome and may think they are the only ones struggling.
- Create a Safe Environment: When kids are able to have a safe place to have big emotions, they feel heard. Ask them and explore them what environment helps them to feel safe, whether it be a cozy pillow corner, dimmed lights in the bedroom, soft voices, a favorite snack nearby, etc.
- Provide Positive Affirmations: When kids are able to move past a difficult feeling and problem solve how to feel better (even if they need help), explain to them in your words what you saw them do and praise, praise, praise! Click HERE for 10 positive affirmations you can use with your kids.
In the end, let’s help our children be heard. While it may seem difficult at first, intentional listening and validation can work wonders in helping us all to move forward.
Want to learn more? Here are some of our recent posts:
- The Best Attitude Is Gratitude:
- How To Help Your Kids Develop A Gratitude Attitude:
- Embracing The Growth Mindset With Your Child