I watched a little boy at the park, fall and scrap his knee. His mom stood him up and wiped off his knee, as he screamed with pain, and said, “You are ok. Be a big boy. It doesn’t hurt”.
I wanted to run over and push her down on the sidewalk so she could see that a scrapped knee does hurt. I refrained. But my heart hurt for this little boy because the message he was getting was, don’t trust your feelings, don’t feel, and boys don’t cry.
The little boy started to act out; he kicked his mother (and I smiled but my heart ached at the same time). Because as children when our feelings are invalidated, most of us learn to either act out our feelings or suppress our feelings. I see clients in my office everyday that are struggling to trust, express, and understand their feelings. If we are teaching our kids that their feelings aren’t real, correct, or proper, then how do they, as adults, make sense of their feelings?
This idea of invalidating our children’s feelings came home to my own bedroom last night as my 2-year-old son walked in, saying, “My tummy hurts”. In my groggy, sleep induced fog, I replied, “You’re fine. You’re just tired.” I proceeded to pull him into our bed, thinking to myself please, just go back to sleep. No sooner was he in bed between my husband and me, than he threw up all over us. I was quickly reminded that our children DO know how they feel. Whether sick, scared, happy, or mad…. They know what they are feeling and our job as parents is to hear and validate those feelings. Plus, if I had taken my son seriously when he said his tummy hurt, I would have ran to the bathroom with him and maybe avoided being puked on.
So, how do we validate our children’s feelings?
The mom in the park could have picked up her crying son, hugged him tightly and said, “Wow, that hurt.” Just that small little sentence could have made the world of difference for this little boy. All we have to do to validate a feeling is acknowledge it; let our child know that their feelings are real, and important, and that we will take them seriously. We don’t have to take away the feelings, or make it all better, or fix it.