Contributed by Renae Jones MS, LMHC
Have you ever felt understood? As in someone really understands you – they get you – and
they get it! It’s one of the best feelings to experience.
In my own parenting journey I have had the experience of watching my child, who I love more
than words can say, have a major melt down and present behaviors that are more than words
can describe! My reaction – Stop – Stop – Stop! I quickly think to myself I HAVE to make them
STOP. They get escalated and I get escalated. This is great. Now the both of us are flying off the
handle. Didn’t I just mention I love this child more than words can say? So why am I losing it?
Why am I raising my voice – ok – admit it – yelling? And I have to ask myself – don’t you think if
he/she could stop he/she would stop? This is likely about as much fun for them as it is for you
right now – how are you feeling?
Yes – go with that - how are you feeling? Horrible, my heart is racing, my face is red, my voice is
raised (OK - I’m yelling), perhaps I’ve even pounded my fist on the table or kicked the couch. I
feel awful and it gets even worse when I consider that I’m doing this in response to my four
year old child. Nice – I hope this picture goes into their short term memory with a caption “OK,
not Mom’s finest hour but I love her just the same.” So that’s how you’re feeling. Now, more
importantly and very key in breaking this cycle – how are they feeling?
Now go with that – how are they feeling? Well, from the looks of things they are not feeling well at all. Laying on the floor screaming and thrashing about is not the international sign of “I’m having a great day”. So they’re feeling – what – did they say? Did anything come out in which they identified a feeling, any “I hate you”, “I can’t stand this”, “I hate school”, “I’m scared” – anything. Because if anything did you have the start of your validation and perhaps the start of de-escalating this child who you really do love more than words can say. If they identified a feeling, you can validate it simply by repeating what they just said.
They say, “I’m scared.” Your response, “You’re scared.” Yep, it’s that easy.
They say, “I’m mad.” Your response, “You’re mad.” See - easy.
They say, “I hate you.” – Your response, “You hate me.” OK, that one’s not so easy. However,
the thing to remember is you are validating a feeling they are having right in that time they’re
having it. So try to keep in mind this is what they’re feeling right now, not forever. And truly, although hearing this is not easy, there’s a big difference between saying and doing. It is, after all, our actions and behaviors that get us in trouble and not our feelings. And if a child can express a feeling safely and be heard they are less likely to act on feelings that are bottled up and eating away at them later on in life. So hear them, and more so, understand them. That’s the power of validation of feeling.
So what about the child who lays on the floor screaming and thrashing about with no
identifiable words coming out. They don’t or can’t (pre-verbal) give you any words to describe
what they’re feeling. Well, again, look at the presentation and give a guess. “It looks like you’re
mad.” “You seem frustrated.” “You’re sad – am I right?”
This may seem patronizing or condescending to some people but it’s an act of enormous love to
try and understand each other. Understanding and accepting is a big part of love. It is not loving
to fix each other or stop each other, although that is usually our intent when we try to fix our kids or stop a meltdown. We want them to be the best they can be and we don’t like seeing them in pain. However, there is an implied message with fixing and stopping that can be perceived as - I’m loved – but not when I do this or I’m a great kid - if I just got rid of this part. As parents, of course we love our kids entirely and absolutely. And so we must love them through thick and thin, when they have halos over their heads and when they have horns growing out of them.
There lies the power of validation of feeling. So, when they are up there having an episode and it is EPIC – try it. They may not hear it because their brain is in survival mode at that point. Imagine the brain of a rabbit being chased by a fox – that’s where they’re at. But give it a try and when they’ve calmed down a bit, do it again. Rather than you going to that place with them and both of you losing your cool, stay calm and say something like - “It looks like you’re mad and I love you more than words can say.”