It’s early September, otherwise known as back to school season- a time of cheers for some, and tears for others. A lot of kids returning to school are going to have mixed emotions, including a lot of anxiety and fear, about what lies ahead for the year, both academically and socially. For those of us that are parents, this provides a great opportunity to practice our validation skills.
We sometimes fall into the trap of being accidentally invalidating to our kids when they are embarking on new adventures by telling them things like “it’s not that bad” or “there’s no need to be worried”. While these types of statements usually come from a well-intentioned and loving place, they don’t feel reassuring to a child who is feeling anxious. Instead they can actually serve to intensify unwanted emotions because now the child feels misunderstood on top of what they were already feeling. You can avoid this trap by using validation.
First and foremost, LISTEN to your child. Make sure to put the phones down, stop what you’re doing, and really take the time to focus on actively listening to the concerns your child is expressing. You may have the urge to interrupt them with either encouragement or problem solving, but mindfully notice and let go of that urge. Remember that sometimes our children are simply wanting to be heard, not have us as parents try and fix things for them. Let them know they’ve been heard through your body language, and by reflecting back to them what they’ve said.
Work hard to put yourself in your child’s shoes, and understand from their perspective why what they’re feeling makes sense. Remember that your child’s school experiences may be very different from what your own was; you may have been valedictorian while your child struggles with geometry, or you may have been a popular social butterfly and your child is introverted and has difficulty meeting new people. Try and remember that the pressures of school both socially and academically are much different than when we were young; for example, most of us didn’t grow up with Common Core or social media. Once you’re able to really understand from your child’s perspective, make sure to communicate it to them using language that is both gentle and genuine.
By implementing some of these validation techniques, you will likely find that it may make for a happier September for the whole family. Often when kids feel validated by their parents, it gives them that sense that somebody really gets how they’re feeling which in turn serves to reduce the intensity of their emotions and keeps conflicts from brewing and erupting. Using validation will help turn those back to school tears into back to school cheers for both you AND your kids.