When babies are in a state of distress, what is it that calms them down and makes them contented? Normally, it is the loving, caring actions of another person (usually their primary carer, but not always).
John Bowlby studied how parents and children interact and develop relationships and how these relationships influence the children’s development. Bowlby is the grandfather of attachment theory, arguing that how we experience the early relationships with primary care-givers goes on to have a major effect on how we feel as adults.
One of our goals as parents then, should be to foster a secure attachment with our children. One key part of forming a secure attachment is validation. Why is validation so central to secure attachment? And what are the benefits of validation to children?
Validation communicates acceptance. Humans have a need to belong and feeling accepted is calming. Acceptance means acknowledging the value of yourself and fellow human beings. But beyond simply feeling accepted, validation has many other powerful impacts on our children.
Validation strengthens relationships. Feeling accepted builds relationships. Research shows that chemicals related to feeling connected are released when someone is validated. This means that by validating our children, we reinforce our bond to them, and help to strengthen our relationship with them.
Validation helps children to regulate their emotions. Our brains are programmed to be calmed down by connection. Knowing that you are heard and understood is a powerful experience and one that relieves urgency. Some say it’s because when we don’t feel understood it creates thoughts of being left out or not fitting in. Those thoughts activate the threat systems in our brain, and lead us to panic. This is not your fault! Our children carry with them not just their own experiences but the influence of generations gone before. They carry the fears of thousands, millions!, of years of evolution. Because being part of a group was so critical for survival, especially in the early days of humankind, the potential loss of love and acceptance carries with it a huge reactivity. Your children are primed to have themselves be heard. And when we aren’t feeling heard, we raise our voice! The same goes for our kids – when they don’t feel validated, their emotional distress escalates, as does their behaviour.
Validation helps encourage perseverance. When your child is having a difficult time, having that difficulty recognised helps them to continue to face it. Knowing that someone sees and appreciates their emotional experiences helps to build determination and persistence in the face of adversity. As parents, we can help develop our child’s sense of courage by supporting and validating them. In fact, we even call it encouragement. We act as a safe base for children to go out and explore the world.
Validation helps to build your child’s sense of identity. Validating your child provides a reflection of their thoughts and feelings by another person. Their values and patterns and choices are highlighted and that helps them to see their own personality characteristics more clearly. This allows your child to gain a stronger sense of self and allowed them to gain independence.
Validation helps your child know they are on the right track. Our internal experiences do not have to be the same as anyone else’s but it helps to know that our experiences are understandable. Life can be confusing and difficult. Feedback that what they are experiencing is normal or makes sense lets a child know that they are thinking and feeling in understandable ways. This process of normalising experiences also helps them to self-determine when their experiences become distorted because they have open communication channels, free from judgment.
Validation builds understanding and effective communication. We all go through the same stuff differently. Two people can watch the same event occur and see different aspects and remember important details differently. Validation is a way of understanding another person’s point of view and create a shared understanding of an event or situation.
Validation shows your child that they are important. Above all else, validation communicates to your child that they are important to you and you care about their thoughts and feelings and experiences. Validation also shows your child that you are there for them. And what greater gift could we possibly want for our children?