Validating emotions, the best way to reassure a very sensitive child

Below a certain age, young children have trouble managing their emotions: they have uncontrollable tantrums, inconsolable crying, sometimes inexplicable sadness. Faced with these negative emotions, positive parenting has a solution: validating the emotions. This benevolent parental practice would reassure him, especially if he is very sensitive.

One of the founding principles of positive parenting is to show empathy towards your child. According to specialists, this empathy comes first and foremost through validation of emotions and feelings. But in reality,validate emotions”, what does that really mean? Psychologists explain that the practice consists of identifying the toddler’s emotion when it arises, openly acknowledging its existence, explaining the reasons that caused it, affirming its legitimacy, allowing it to exist and ultimately allow your child to feel it and express it freely.

This process is essential for its development : it helps to reassure him in the face of emotions that he cannot understand and/or control… And this process is even more important when the child is very sensitive! Indeed, he receives more emotional stimuli, feels emotions more intensely than others, and feels more easily overwhelmed, distressed by them. We explain to you precisely how validating your emotions is the best way to soothe and calm him down.

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Validate emotions: put a name to what he does not understand and what worries him

An emotion is a message sent by the body to protect and defend our interest. However, during early childhood, the brat is not not yet able to parse this message, to see the need that hides behind, to express it and to act accordingly: his brain is not developed enough to process and identify the information induced by these energies. Managing all his emotions becomes difficult. Whatever the emotion felt by the toddler, he does not understand it, does not control it, which can cause stress and anguish in him.

Moreover, he is not able to express/verbalize them well with the attachment figures who could help him. Result: the different emotions accumulate, inhabit him, plunge him into emotional distress. He needs the intervention of his parents to name their emotions, decrypt them, make him understand them and finally, reassure him. For example, the child may cry because he is hungry: by validating his emotions, the parent puts a name to his anger, verbalizes the need that is hidden behind (= eating), responds to it and contributes to his security feeling : “I can see that you are angry because you are hungry. It’s normal to cry when you’re angry. Don’t worry, we’ll eat soon.”

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Consider the child and his emotions at their fair value to reassure him

The psychologists of Psych Central* explain that the whole heart of the practice does not rest on the fact of identifying and seeking the causes of these emotions, but more on allowing the child to feel seen, recognized, understood and valued : “For parents and caregivers, validating your child’s feelings is less about getting the ‘hard facts’ about what made them feel that way, and more about helping children feel seen, heard and understood”explains Annia Palacios, family therapist.

Indeed, when parents put a name to their emotions instead of ignoring them, they make them visible and the child also feels seen. This creates a space of trust between the two, a kind of “safe place” where the latter is comfortable expressing and communicating all that he feels, allowing the dad and/or the mom to comfort him and reassure him easily and quickly (the emotion being openly displayed and not hidden by the brat). In addition, very sensitive children are more likely than others to develop low self-esteem: validating their emotions helps to reassure them and restore their confidence.

“When you validate a child’s experience, you are letting them know that they have a safe space to talk about and process what they have experienced (…) This safety can help children develop skills adapt and learn to trust each other as they grow”explains Laura Fonseca, social worker accustomed to working daily with children and adolescents.

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Help him regulate an overflow of negative emotions

Faced with such an overflow of emotions, emotional validation on the part of the parents makes it possible to accompany the children in this ordeal, not to leave them alone during this phase of emotional stress. By validating, naming, verbally recognizing the emotions of the latter, the dad or the mom will help him to identify them and to regulate them when he can’t manage to do it himself. Additionally, emotional validation legitimize negative emotions and positive effects of the toddler: he understands that he has the right to feel them, that he has the right to be who he is. Rather than ignoring them, playing them down, denying them or forbidding them, parents make room for them so that they fully exist.

Not only does the practice have a positive effect on child development in the present moment, but it is also beneficial in adulthood: he learns healthy emotional regulation and in the future, he will be able to tame and manage his emotions independently. When he feels anger or sadness, he will not be ashamed of this emotion, he will welcome it fully, listen to it, understand it and resolve it easily, without repressing it or burying it deep inside him.

As you know, repressing an emotion is not never good for mental health : burying it does not make it disappear and feeds, on the contrary, a deep malaise. To make it go away, you have to accept it and evacuate it, if possible, in full consciousness.

Open-minded and in love with life, Emilie likes to decipher the new phenomena that shape society and relationships today. Her passion for the human being motivates her to write…

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