It’s true what they say…

The parents that are feeling like the biggest screw ups are usually the ones who care most and are trying the hardest.

Now, for good measure, I should point out that if you don’t think you are a screw up, that is a good thing. It means you are likely taking good care of yourself and have a realistic and healthy perspective on parenting.

We need to banish the idea that good parenting necessitates constant guilt and anxiety as a show of care or effort.

At the same time, I am speaking to my fellow anxious parents here who are working their butts off, but feeling bad about everything they do.

Hello, I see you. You are not a bad parent!

Your worry about being a bad parent doesn’t mean you are a bad parent. Read that again.

Worry does not equal truth. Anxiety, after all, is just a bunch of conspiracy theories about yourself that you have started to really really believe.

It is also true that good parents make mistakes. Great parents make mistakes. Mistakes do not make you a bad parent they make you human.

In fact, mistakes mean you are trying and willing to continue trying.

That sounds like an amazing parent to me; one that doesn’t give up.

So with that in mind, let’s have a casual compassionate chat about one thing loving, amazing, parents do that doesn’t work very well in the long run in terms of building tweens and teens emotional wellbeing.

Emotional Validation.

It’s not a buzzword.

The reason you have been hearing it so frequently lately is because more and more information is coming out about the importance of it in raising empowered, resilient and well-adjusted people.

It, quite frankly, was not something that was ever considered important until, well very recently in fact. Most of us grew up without it.

And, many of us have wondered why we struggle with our self-esteem, struggle to make decisions, constantly people please, always put our needs on the back burner, feel we are a burden to others, wonder if everyone is judging us, question our own feelings, think we are “too much/too sensitive/too emotional”, and generally walk on eggshells all the time not feeling good enough or acceptable enough.

Dang. Sound familiar?

I guess many of you would also say “I had great parents. They loved me, were proud of me, and I never felt I was wanting for anything”

So why then do you feel this undercurrent of anxiety, disconnection, or loneliness?

It’s because your loving, amazing parents never learned the art of emotional validation. It’s not their fault. They were raised without it too.

But, with some information and effort, you can learn the art of emotional validation so that your tweens and teens grow up to believe in their worth, feel comfortable and confident in their emotional selves, and ultimately will help them feel much more connected to you.

What is emotional validation?

It is, very simply, acknowledging – in an effort to truly understand and make space for – someone’s emotional experience, without judgement.

Effective emotional validation is really about letting people feel what they feel without trying to change it, fix it, contradict it, deny it, or get angry at it.

It is the single most effective thing parents can do to raise well-adjusted and confident kids, and it is the critical key to strong, healthy connections.

Here’s an example of what we typically do:

Your teen: This is so stupid. I don’t want to go on that trip. I can’t believe you are making me miss prom. You don’t understand me at all.

You: Don’t be so upset! I do understand you! That’s why I know this trip is good for you. I’m only looking out for your wellbeing. You will thank me in the future for this opportunity. See how much I care? What other parent would take their kid on such a cultural excursion!

Your intention is to show them you truly love them, care about them and know who they are. You are trying to reassure them that they don’t need to be upset. If only they could see things from your perspective they wouldn’t be so angry! If you convince them of your perspective, the problem is solved. You have helped them feel less of a negative emotion. Woo parenting win!

Sound about right?

Here’s why it doesn’t work:

This is your teen hears is “Stop complaining and stop experiencing your anger. It isn’t valid. I don’t care how you feel and I want you to stop expressing yourself or your needs because they don’t matter at all to me or my decision making. I have no interest in understanding why you are upset I only want you to obey and get over it. Your emotions are too much.”

I realize it’s shocking to see their interpretation be so far off from your intention but the fact is most family fights stem from this one basic disconnect: Intention versus interpretation.

You can’t convince someone to stop feeling something just by throwing logic at the situation.

Also, reassurance isn’t validating. Reassurance is actually only something that can be effectively accomplished through validation.

Here’s how you can actually help someone stop feeling so sad and reassure them by using the art of emotional validation:

Your teen: This is so stupid. I don’t want to go on that trip. I can’t believe you are making me miss prom. You don’t understand me at all.

You: You’re really upset about this trip because you are going to miss prom. Prom is really important to you. I can totally understand why that would be so painful. Can you tell me what you are going to miss most about prom? Help me understand exactly how you are feeling. I am here for you and ready to listen.

Your teen: You are stealing away an important event in my life. You only get one prom and now I will never have one.

You: That does sound really upsetting. I would be sad about missing something so important as well.

Your teen: I’m really sad. I wanted to buy a dress and get a special haircut.

You: Aww those would have been really fun. Buying a fancy dress isn’t something we do very often and you were really looking forward to something special like that.

Your teen: And now I can’t!

You: It must feel like that was your only chance. It kinda makes the trip seem like a burden and not an opportunity. I get that now.

Your teen: Yeah. I want to go on the trip, I just wish I didn’t have to miss out. All my friends are going and I will miss everything.

You: That really sucks. I hate missing out on things.

Your teen: Yeah it sucks.

You: Do you want to talk about some solutions together? I can’t fix prom and it’s Ok to be devastated about it. I am here when you are ready if you want to take time to think about it.

Your teen: I just feel like they are going to do all these special things. I know a trip is special, but I won’t get all the photos and get to dress up and feel fancy and stuff.

You: I love feeling fancy. It sounds like if you had an opportunity to feel fancy and special, then maybe the trip wouldn’t feel like such a problem.

Your teen: Maybe not. I dunno.

You: I know you will have some really creative ideas about how we can ensure you have your special experience and get to enjoy this trip as well. A few ideas I have are: Maybe a fancy haircut for the trip, and a special outing that will require a new dress. I’d love to go shopping with you for it. Imagine the instagram photos you could take while we are away and you are dressed to the nines in another country! Bet your friends would wish they were there with you. Anyway, no rush. I’m looking forward to hearing what you come up with.

Your teen: That would be really nice. Thanks for understanding. *hugs* Can I show you a picture of the dress I was wanting?
This interaction was taken from a family coaching session and used with permission.

You can see the difference from the first example to the second. One shut the teen and the conversation down. The other opened it up and created more connection. And no one had to compromise in the end.

Curious to know what happened? They took the trip. She missed prom. They enjoyed buying a fancy dress and picking a restaurant in the town they were staying in to make a reservation at. They all dressed up and had a blast. Everyone was staring at them wondering what the occasion was. They took photos to post and she still says it was “one of the best experiences of her life”. Her friends told her that someone got sick at prom and there was drama and that the music was just OK.

Most importantly, this family actually talks and listens to each other and they feel closer than ever.