Parents 'don’t always need to validate their kids’ feelings' - expert argues 'obsession' with validation results in ‘less emotional regulation’, not more

Plus the five situations validating really isn't required

Parents either side of little girl, validating her feelings
(Image credit: Getty Images)

A child development and parenting expert has revealed that caregivers don't always need to validate their kids' feelings, and the 'obsession' to do so can actually fuel dysregulation. 

Parents will want to know how to teach kids emotional intelligence - something they aren't born with, that needs nurturing by caregivers. Social media and the rise of Instagram psychologists, often sees experts reveal their crucial parenting rules for modelling how to manage big emotions - what parents don't know about emotional regulation can leave them feeling concerned they might not be doing enough to instil this quality.

While it is important that parents facilitate their kids' ability to be emotionally intelligent, the trend to constantly validate their feelings can be detrimental. Child development and parenting expert, Claire Lerner, asserts that tuning in to and validating a child's feelings is critical to children's mental health healthy parent-child relationships. She also believes the barrage of being told to do this constantly, can actually lead to escalating dysregulation, and not the required resolution of big feelings.

Writing in Psychology Today, Lerner shares that being in tune with a child's feelings offers an indicator of when validation is not required - and it's very much dependent on context and timing. The expert believes there are five main situations when parents can drop the need to validate and when it proves to be unhelpful.

5 situations when you don't need to validate your child's feelings

  1. It is intrusive - your child wants space and is entitled to it.
  2. It is overwhelming - if your child is dysregulated, it's likely they can't process any input and the situation can escalate.
  3. Something important needs doing - if an important task or activity needs to be done, it's ok to put validation to one side.
  4. It extends bedtime - validating when your child really should be sleeping is counterproductive. They can end up even more exhausted in the morning and be more prone to dysregulation.
  5. You need to be somewhere on time - validating feelings can be shelved when children need to be at school on time, and parents at work. As Lerner points out, being late for school can be very dysregulating to sensitive kids, putting them off balance for the rest of the day. 

Lerner also points out she has witnessed children as young as three, picking up on the fact their parents are so preoccupied about their feelings, they'll drop everything to explore them. Children are working out that this tactic gets them more attention, extends their bedtime, and gets them out of doing tasks and activities they don't want to be doing. 

Another pattern she identifies, is the subsequent absence of limits and the power struggles that flourish when kids realise they can use 'big feelings' as a manipulation tactic. Lerner urges parents to explore whether constant validation is an obstacle to implementing important limits and boundaries - she believes concerns about their child’s feelings can form the basis for all such issues. 

Her advice is that if parents really feel the need to act on their child's difficult behaviours or emotions, to issue one validating statement and then help them move on. She suggests saying "Going from home to school feels hard some days. I will be your helper" while guiding them into the car or walk them home. Getting stuck in the cycle of trying to validate feelings often results in escalation - the bottom line is that it simply doesn't always offer what a child needs. 

For more on parenting, we have expert-backed guides on how to raise raise resilient kids, how to raise confident kids, and how to raise happy kids - whatever your child rearing goals, we have actionable tips to help you achieve them.  

Lucy Wigley
Parenting writer - contributing

Lucy is a mum-of-two, multi-award nominated writer and blogger with six years’ of experience writing about parenting, family life, and TV. Lucy has contributed content to PopSugar and In the last three years, she has transformed her passion for streaming countless hours of television into specialising in entertainment writing. There is now nothing she loves more than watching the best shows on television and sharing why you - and your kids - should watch them.