What I Learned by Not Validating My Son’s Depressed Feelings
The first time I can recall the purpose of validation as a parent was when my son was 11 years old. We had just spent the day at Universal Studios as a family, and we were having dinner in a restaurant when my son blurted out, “There is no point in living.”
I was surprised by this out-of-place statement.
I should have said, “Are you telling us that you feel like you don’t have a reason to live?”
I should have then waited for some kind of response and depending on the answer said, “What is making you feel this way?” or “There must be a reason why you said that.”
Then I should have said “It must make you sad to feel that there is no point in living.”
I should have listened and later had a follow up conversation about this topic, exploring my son’s emotions and allowing him to feel safe and acknowledged.
But I didn’t.
Instead I said, “What? We just had such a fun day, how can you say there is no point in living? You have such a good life…” and I continued to say all those things parents say to their child when we want to “fix” a problem.
However fixing the problem is not always the best solution.
This was the first sign showing me my son was depressed and struggling with intense emotions.
He reached out, but I didn’t listen.
Oh, I took him to therapy and tried to help him, but I didn’t listen in the way he needed me to listen.
That was a pivotal moment in his life.
I didn’t know how important it was or the importance of validation. From that moment, my son withdrew and kept his feelings buried and locked away, leading to a destructive path that took years of counseling and hard work to break free.
I have spent a great deal of time thinking about that day and wondering how things could have looked if I had reacted differently and how would that have affected my son’s future.
Validation should be used for most parenting situations, not just the one I described. It takes a lot of practice to get it right, especially if you are trying to validate someone who is angry.
Validation is one of the most important elements to learn before parenting any child. It allows your child to feel seen, heard and accepted and to know that what they say matters and is understood.
What lessons about validation have I learned to use in my everyday parenting?
When your child has taken the bold step to tell you about their feelings, listen to what they say. Sometimes their emotions are easy to see (crying and yelling) and understand. If they won’t communicate with you, listen to what they say to others and what they avoid
If your child or teen is behaving inappropriately or aggressively, it is best to remove yourself from the situation and listen to them when they have calmed down.
Interact with a sound, a gesture or a word when your child is speaking, showing you hear them. Often the best way to let your child know they have been heard is to rephrase and repeat. This clarifies what was said and tells them you are listening.
You do not have to agree with what your child says or the feelings they have, you just have to accept them.
Do not diminish their feelings if you disagree with them. Everyone deserves to have their feelings accepted without judgment. For example if your child is angry because they want a later curfew than you are willing to give, don’t say, “Too bad, I’m the parent, I make the
rules.” Instead say, “I understand you are angry about the rules. It is not my intention to make you angry. I am the parent and I try to keep you safe, maybe we can have a discussion later where we both give our points of view.”
I do not mean fix their problem or offer a solution.
Mend by helping them discover a choice on their own. Ask what they think they should do. Often if your child opens up to you about their feelings, they don’t want a solution, they just want to be heard. There may be times when your child needs more than you are capable of giving. If that is the case, seek out professional advice.
Don’t wait. Validate them now and encourage them to want to talk to you.
If you or someone you know needs help, please visit the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. You can also reach the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741-741. Head here for a list of crisis centers around the world.
The Crisis Text Line is looking for volunteers! If you’re interesting in becoming a Crisis Counselor, you can learn more information here.