Sheryl Jesin

Validating a Toddler’s Feelings


One way that we practice positive discipline with our 2.5 year old son Dylan is to validate his feelings.  We believe in Attachment Parenting’s “golden rule” of parenting, which is that parents should treat their children the way they want to be treated themselves.  Validating Dylan’s feelings is a way for us to put this “golden rule” into practice.

Here is an example.  Sometimes when I leave for work in the mornings, Dylan starts whining and crying a bit tells me not to leave.  Sometimes I can stay for home a bit longer and play with him a bit, and other times I have no choice but to leave right away.   My husband Jake is left to deal with an upset little boy.  He has discovered that it isn’t helpful if he tries telling Dylan:  Don’t cry!  Mommy will be home after work – I’m here with you.  Don’t be upset!   Dylan just tends to get more upset and the whining and the crying escalate.

However, Jake has had a lot of success with validating Dylan’s feelings and saying things like:  I can see you are sad.  You must really miss mommy when she is at work.   You are upset when she has to leave.  When Jake validates Dylan’s feelings, Dylan usually stops his whining and crying within a minute or two, goes to Jake for a cuddle, and then is happy and playing again a few minutes later.

The website was founded by Steve Hein, an American writer who is an expert in emotional intelligence.  The site has a great page on validation, and explains validation as follows:

To validate is to acknowledge and accept one’s unique identity and individuality. Invalidation, on the other hand, is to reject, ignore, or judge their feelings, and hence, their individual identity.

When we validate someone, we allow them to safely share their feelings and thoughts. We are reassuring them that it is okay to have the feelings they have. We are demonstrating that we will still accept them after they have shared their feelings. We let them know that we respect their perception of things at that moment. We help them feel heard, acknowledged, understood and accepted.

Jake and I have also discovered that validating feelings not only makes our toddler feel better, but also helps us when we are upset or in the midst of an argument.  Validation leads to fewer arguments and conflicts, and brings us closer together.

It’s not always easy to validate Dylan’s feelings, especially when Jake and I are tired, frustrated and it’s the end of a long day.  But whenever we do, we are always pleasantly surprised with the results, and we are motivated to try it again, either with Dylan or with each other.

3 thoughts on “Validating a Toddler’s Feelings

  1. I’ve noticed that by validating and giving a name to the feeling that Dylan is having, I am enabling him to better be in tune with his own emotions and feelings so that he can respond to them on his own.

    Here is a recent example. Two days ago, Dylan approached me – not crying – but with a couple of tears welling up in his eyes. Here was the conversation we had…..almost verbatim:

    Me: Hi Dyl, What’s wrong?
    Dylan: I’m feeling sad because Igor [his grandfather who he refers to using his first name] took my fork away!
    Me: “Oh, do you want a hug?”
    Dylan: Yes
    [We hug during which point I ask him…]
    Me: I can see you are so sad, tell me what happened?
    Dylan: I was being bad and not listening so he took my fork away.
    Me: You must want it back, what do you think you should do?
    Dylan: I’ll say sorry, and then maybe….he’ll give it back to me.
    Me: That’s a good idea, go try and see what happens.

    The surprising thing for me was that I didn’t have to go to him because I heard him crying, but instead he came and found me and simply told me how he was feeling. (Remember, he’s only 2.5 years old.) I’ve also been trying to not give him the answer to each problem right away and see what he can come up with first on his own. So far, he hasn’t let me down.

    Overall, I think he is relieved to be able to voice his feelings knowing that he has the appropriate terminology to explain them. (e.g. sad, mad, angry, tired, etc.) It’s also a relief for me as I’m no longer apprehensive of him having a major meltdown in public.

  2. Great ideas! My son is just 13 months old, but we are trying to do some of that with him. So far doesn’t seem to have much impact but I hope it will when he’s a little older. Mainly he gets frustrated because he can’t have grown-up things that he could get hurt on. Hard to explain that one to a 1-year-old and he’s ridiculously hard to distract!

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