With the children at home most hours throughout the summer months nerves may become frazzled, patience may run thin, and you may find yourself wishing, even saying out loud, “I can’t wait for school to start again!”
To avoid having these feelings, or at least to keep them at a minimum, and to enjoy this time with your children try using the principle of validation. That means we need to allow children to feel what they are feeling, and simply walk beside them emotionally. Learning to do this now will not only bless your summer, but will serve you and your children well during their entire growing up period. Here’s a little direction on how to make that happen.
Children face a multitude of problems as they learn and grow. For example, your six-year-old daughter, Lucy, comes whining to you about a girl in the neighborhood. “Sarah was picking on me again. Why can’t she just leave me alone?”
What would you do? Lucy has frequently complained about Sarah and frankly you’re sick of her whining about this annoying girl. You have told her she needs to ignore her. You also told her to stand up to her and “Tell her to leave you alone.” Why doesn’t she just do what you say? “She must not be getting the message, so you think you need to make it perfectly clear this time, and, with a decibel or two added, you proceed with your voice of experience one more time.
Why do we keep doing what doesn’t work? As adults we tend to think we have all the answers for our children. Obviously we know more than they do; therefore, it is our divine duty to impart our expertise in large doses to their eager little minds. Sounds good, but it gets us about as far as climbing a snowcapped mountain with waxed skis. We end up right back where we started-or worse. Usually worse, because lecturing, preaching, and giving advice doesn’t work. In fact they often backfire. Validation does work.
Let’s review the scene with Lucy and show how validation works in this case. Lucy has just unloaded her problem on you. Remember, the universal need of every human being is to feel that I am of worth, my feelings matter, and someone really cares about me. If you really care about Lucy and how she’s feeling, will you brush her off with a “How many times do I have to tell you” lecture? Of course not. Her feelings matter. She matters. How about, with a little tenderness in your voice, saying, “Oh, honey, that’s got to be hard. I bet you’re getting really tired of it.” Then remember the four rules of validation: (1) Listen by giving your full attention, (2) listen to the feelings, (3) listen to the needs being expressed, and (4) try to understand from her perspective. It takes only a few minutes.
As you do this Lucy may say something like, “I really am tired of it. I’d like to beat her up!” Now you must resist a lecture on beating people up!. That’s not the issue here. That’s simply what she’s feeling, and remember, what Lucy is feeling really matters. You might say, “I don’t blame you. I think I might feel the same way if I were you.” And isn’t that true? If you think about it, you really would feel that way. You’re just being honest.
Notice how these words validate Lucy’s feelings. It is okay for her to feel what she is feeling. No one can change that, so there is no point in trying. To do otherwise will only frustrate her further. As long as you keep listening and validating, allowing her to feel what she is feeling, Lucy will keep talking until her frustrations are all out. That is the only thing that will change how she is feeling.
If Lucy asks you what she can do to stop this girl from tormenting her, it is resistance time again. Of course you think you know the answer, but the answer needs to come from her to be effective. How about responding with, “Hmmm. I’m not sure. What do you think would work?” Even a young child can come up with a good solution.
Give Them a Chance to Solve the Problem
Too often we think a child does not have sufficient knowledge to come up with a good solution. That is short-changing children. They have a far greater capacity for problem solving than we realize. What they don’t have is enough of is opportunities to discover and develop that capacity. Watch and listen to small children playing house or other pretend activities and you’ll discover the rather impressive negotiating and problem-solving skills they already possess.
One of the most influential developmental psychologists of the twentieth century, Jean Piaget, discovered that children learn very early to do their own problem solving. He gave this illustration about an eighteen-month-old child: “For the first time, Lucienne plays with a doll carriage whose handle comes to the height of her face. She rolls it over the carpet by pushing it. When she come against a wall, she pulls, walking backward. But as the position is not convenient for her, she pauses and without hesitation goes to the other side to push the carriage again. She therefore found the procedure in one attempt, apparently through analogy to other situations but without training, apprenticeship, or chance.”
The problem solving ability children have became evident again one afternoon when I went out to pick up our mail. A little five-year-old neighbor girl was walking home dejectedly from the neighborhood pool. I said, “Hi, Katie. How are you doing today.?”
Katie said, “Not good. The boys at the pool are making fun of me.”
Validating her feelings, I said, “Oh, that’s no fun.”
Katie replied, “It sure isn’t and I’m sick of it. They do it all the time.”
I said, “That’s hard, but I’ve got an idea you could try.”
A little disgustedly she asked, “What?”
How about just ignoring them?”
Katie said, “That’s not a good idea. I’ve tried it already and it doesn’t work.” Then I remembered the importance of giving a child a chance to solve her own problem, I said, “What do you think would work?” Katie thought a minute and then replied, “I think I’m going to have my mom talk to their moms. That will work.” Then she went happily on her way.
Given a chance to solve a problem a child may come up with a good answer or he might say, “I don’t’ know what to do.” You may need to help him do some digging for an idea. You could say, “Can yo think of just one thing you could try?” Give him a few minutes to think. If he senses you are not ready to jump in with an answer, he’ll use the silent time to come up with his own ideas. Encourage him to keep thinking of what might work. Then, if he cannot come up with any ideas, you may need to give him a suggestion.
Suggestions are not advice. Remember, advice says, “you should” or “you ought” or “you need to,” whereas suggestions allow the child to make her own decisions.
Advice says you must, and if you don’t you’ll disappoint the person giving the advice and then you’ll feel guilty on top of still having the problem. Also, if you follow advice and it doesn’t work, whose fault is it, and who are you likely to discount in the future?
Instead you could say to your child something like, “I wonder what would happen if you . . .” Then giver your suggestion. Notice the wording, “I wonder . . .” It suggests an idea to consider, but is not advice. Or you may give some other suggestion you think will help by saying, “Here’s something you might try. I’m not sure it will work, but it might.” Notice the wording again. You put no pressure on her to use your idea, nor do you make any guarantees it will work. Then make your suggestion, adding that she may even come up with a better idea.
Do you see how this process builds a young child’s self-confidence? Do you see how it sets you free from the responsibility of having to solve all of her problems. Do you see how it empowers her to become her own problem solver? Do you see how she’ll be more willing to talk over her frustrations and problems with you in the future when they are far more significant? Validating your children’s feelings and allowing them to solve problems will go a long way toward helping them become emotionally healthy and responsible adults.
Just Listening May Be the Solution
One mother of a sixth-grader had an “aha” experience with this principle. Norma had attended one of our seminars where validation was taught. At the next session she came in early, literally shouting, “It works! It works!” She was so excited she could hardly wait to share what had happened. She reported:
“My son has been extremely unhappy with school. Nearly every morning he complains about having to go to school, and after he comes home he complains about his teacher, and how he hates school and all the homework. His complaining always ends with him begging for home school.
“He came home yesterday, and, even more emphatically than before, said, I hate school! I’m never going back. And you can’t make me. I want home school!'”
“I always say to him, You have to go back. We aren’t having home school and that’s that!” But yesterday your words, Listen, listen, listen, and understand,’ filled my mind. Instead of my usual response, I sat down with my son and gently said, Oh, what happened?’ He became Mount St. Helens and his feelings just poured out. I hate school. My teacher’s awful. She doesn’t understand. And she gives us all this homework and I hate it. It’s just too much. I hate it!’
“I resisted any comments or lectures on the difficult role of teachers or the value of school and homework. I could see these would not answer his needs. The need was to let my son express his feelings without criticism, interruption, or solutions. When he finished unloading, I said, That’s hard. I don’t blame you for feeling that way.’ that’s all I said, and I did it with a hug.
Then he stood up, and said, Well, I guess I better get my homework done.’ The next morning he went to school without a complaint. It’s a miracle. Validation really works.”
Norma caught the vision of how important it is to walk beside the child, putting yourself in his shoes. When you do this, you will begin to have genuine understanding of what the child is going through.
Today when your child comes to you, take that opportunity to listen. Resist telling her what to do. Just listen and validate without trying to change her thinking. Use a validating phrase such as, Wow, I bet that was hard. What happened?” If she asks for your help remember to allow her to solve her own problem by asking her, “What do you think would work?” If the child is happy about something, enjoy the moment with him by saying something like, “That’s great! Tell me about it.”
The apostle Paul understood the principle of validation well when he taught, “Rejoice with them that do rejoice, weep with them that weep. Be of the same mind one toward another.” (Romans 12:15) Or in other words, understand the best you can from the other person’s point of view.
Using these principles of validation can bring a great deal of peace into your life and the lives of your children. And the bonus is that it works in all relationships.
[Excerpts from the Lundberg’s book, I Don’t Have to Make Everything All Better, Chapter Seven: How Validation Works with Young Children. To order the book with free shipping in the U.S. go to www.garyjoylundberg.com]