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How can you validate your child's BIG feelings?




April 23, 2024

From navigating toddler tantrums to teen door slams, parenting requires us to ride the waves of our children’s BIGGEST emotions. But it’s not always easy to know how to best help them understand and process their difficult feelings, while also regulating your own emotions. 

Validating your child’s feelings is one of the greatest gifts that you can offer. This means acknowledging how your child is feeling in the moment — whether it’s sad, angry, joyful, or any other big emotion — without judgment or expectation. We know it’s not always easy, but by letting them know that all of their emotions matter, you’re setting them up for a lifetime of emotional self-regulation. 

That’s why Bend is here with our top tips for helping your entire family feel seen, heard, and understood when big emotions come up. 

5 ways to validate your child or teen’s emotions

  • Take a moment to regulate yourself. It’s understandable that witnessing your child’s big emotions can surface challenging feelings of your own. Before reacting, take a moment to step back and take a few deep breaths. By increasing your oxygen intake, you’re signaling to your body that you are safe and grounded at that particular moment, allowing you to act from a more calm, regulated state. Ask yourself if there is anything I need to best show up for my child. Sometimes, this can look like a glass of water or asking another trusted adult to step in and provide support.
  • Listen and validate. Try your best to show up for your child by listening respectfully to what they have to say without interrupting, shaming, or judging them. Remember that something like not getting invited to a birthday party might not seem like a big deal to you, but to a kid or teen, it can be all-consuming. Instead of dismissing how your child is feeling, try to help them articulate what they are going through. You can help them feel heard by saying something like, “I hear that you are feeling ____. I’m so glad that you shared this with me.” 
  • Support instead of fix. Instead of swooping in and attempting to fix your child’s problems, find opportunities to help them build resilience or “bounce back” when difficult things happen. Sitting with your kiddo in moments of discomfort while offering support can show them they have what it takes to navigate even life’s trickiest moments. You can ask, “What would make you feel the most supported right now?”
  • Label and regulate emotions. We all lose our cool sometimes, so understandably, your child may burst out in tears or scream in anger when they’re going through a tough time. Help your child to build an emotional vocabulary by naming the feeling they may be experiencing and asking them how it feels in their body. You can even hang a mood chart in your home as an easy reference point. When they open up to you, try using supportive statements like, “I can see why you would feel that way,” or “That sounds really hard.” You can even share an example of a time when you were experiencing a similar emotion and how you were able to get through it. 
  • Find the right time to talk. Avoid discussing tough topics when you or your child is feeling frustrated or defensive, and try to check distractions, like phones, at the door. It can be helpful to use side-by-side communication so that you can both talk and listen without making direct eye contact. Notice when they are most open and communicative, and try to adjust your schedule to protect this window of time. Opportunities like when you are doing chores together, while out for a walk, or sitting side-by-side at the dinner table can take some of the pressure off, and allow you to communicate with each other with more ease.

  • Correct behaviors, not feelings. Let your child know there are no wrong feelings, but certain behaviors are unacceptable. For example, it’s perfectly normal to feel angry, but it is not acceptable to hit someone else because you are feeling angry. 

Validating your child or teen’s emotions is a wonderful way to help them feel safe while learning to navigate their internal experiences. Remember that the team at Bend is here if your family could use support in navigating emotions.