My eyes widened as I slowly approached a melting-down-toddler who had fallen on pavement on my favorite walking trail at the lake in my town. A mix of emotions passed through me. I worried for the little blonde girl hoping she was okay. But, if I’m being honest, I really hoped her mother would remove her from my path before I had to pass, so I didn’t have to be subjected to her extremely piercing screaming.
Something has happened to me since my kids have grown up, I have zero tolerance for screaming kids. Even though I lived through years of my own kids crying, I now look at these red-faced little terrors like aliens and try to get away from the noise as quickly as possible – or scramble furiously for my earbuds.
Unfortunately for me, and the little girl, her mother was in no hurry to pick her up and rush to her side. She was busy with an older child about ten feet away. I was mere steps away from little crying girl when her mother finally returned to her side. I heard the mom say, “You’re okay, you’re okay. Sometimes we fall.” Then she held the girls arm and helped her up to stand and walk to their car.
My daughters are 11 years old and 13 years old so it’s been a while since I’ve had to deal with crying toddlers and their constant falling, but I am sure I have said something very similar or exactly verbatim to my kids when they had fallen. As a result of: my years of experience parenting, personal development research, coach training and certification in positive psychology, I now see the mom’s comment in a very different light.
The mom was telling her daughter that she was okay, when she clearly wasn’t okay. Mom sent the message that falling isn’t a reason to be upset because everyone does it. It was the very opposite of validation. Mom was telling her daughter that she wasn’t hurt, when she clearly was. How confusing that must be to the child. What message does that send?
If I was that little girls’ life coach, I would have said to her, “It really hurts when we fall and scrape our knee doesn’t it? Even though falling happens often and it is a part of learning how to walk, it still hurts when it happens. It’s okay to cry because you are expressing your emotions. If you don’t express your emotions now, they will come out as repressed behavior in college and you’ll end up drinking way too much and studying way too little.”
I’d probably save that last part, since she wouldn’t get it anyway, but the point is – I would have validated her as her coach. As her mom, I would have done the same thing her own young mom did, ignore her tears because she thought it was the quickest way to get her kid to stop crying.
It wasn’t until my children were a little older, about three and five years old that I learned the quickest technique for getting children to stop crying – validation. If we were at the park and one of my daughters started to cry, I would say to her, “You don’t want to leave! The park is so fun! You love the park!”
It was absolutely bananas how the tears would stop, the crying kid would look at me in amazement like, “Gee, lady, you really get me.”
I wouldn’t just say it. I said it emphatically, and authentically to really convey my understanding of how they were feeling. If there were stomping their feet, I’d stomp my feet too. If they were yelling, I’d yell too, “You don’t want to leave! You are having so much fun at the park!”
The book, How to Talk So Little Kids Will Listen by Joanna Faber & Julie King, gives many excellent examples of how to use this type of validating in action. The author's state, “Often a simple acknowledgment of the feeling is enough to defuse a potential meltdown.”
Just as validating quickly shifts energy for adults, it will shift the energy of your screaming kid. You absolutely must be convincing and empathetic. Be the kid who doesn’t want to leave the park and not the mom who is freaking exhausted and just wants to get home and put the kids down for a nap so she can hopefully get some sleep as well.
There are two big reasons to validate your child.
The first is the biggest benefit to you now – they will stop crying.
If you do this technique correctly, it will work every single time. Sometimes might take longer than others to get the child to shift energy, but it will work eventually. Once you have seen your child’s energy has shifted (you will be able to see the change in them) use distraction immediately. Parents of young children are award winners at capitalizing on young children’s distract-ability. Use this skill you have learned right after the crying has stopped so they won’t start crying again.
The second benefit is that you are helping laying the ground work for an emotionally stable individual.
Think about a recent time in your life where you were upset about something. An argument with a spouse, a stressful day at work or generally overwhelmed with life. Think about how you would feel if you were crying about it and someone said to you, “Stop being upset, everyone has problems, you shouldn’t be crying about this now.” It messes with our minds. Not only would we now need to add feeling guilty to our emotions we would feel like there is something wrong with us that we are upset because we are being told we shouldn’t be upset.
By validating our children, we teach them that their feelings are okay. And if we have learned anything from Oprah, it is that all feelings are okay. We need to teach our children that they are normal for having the feelings they are having. When they learn that their feelings are okay and normal, children are able to actually feel them, and let them pass through in a healthy way. Otherwise, we create confusion and feelings of inferiority.
It’s not easy to do this as a parent or in any of our relationships for that matter. For some reason we think the quickest way to make someone feel better is to tell them all the reasons why they shouldn’t be upset. We do this with love, we want them to stop being upset and we don’t know what to say. Even though, we know, when it happens to us, it makes us feel awful. It makes us keep our feelings bottled up. After all, whenever we talk about being upset, we just hear how we aren’t supposed to be feeling this way.
The next time your child is upset, resist temptation to tell them they aren’t upset or why they shouldn’t be upset. Validating our children results in less endless tantrums and lays the groundwork for emotionally stable little people. It’s a win-win for everyone. People like me who don’t enjoy screaming children in public can enjoy their walk around the lake in peace. The child feels better faster and the parent has less stress.
Learn more techniques for reducing parental stress by signing up for a private coaching session with me for only $75/hour.