Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Validating a child's feelings - a simple thing that has proven invaluable to me.

I want to share with you a little insight/trick that I have learned while interacting with a child, that has helped me a lot.  I picked this up from one of the parenting books or websites that my friend M keeps sharing with me, and I found that it is one of the most valuable inputs I have received about parenting.

In short - it is about listening to and validating a child's feelings.

When a child comes to you crying or whining about something - some little thing which you think is too small and insignificant to worry about - we usually say, "Oh come on, is that all, you should not cry for all that, stop crying."

To understand how this might feel, think of yourself in this situation.  You are sad, unhappy, frustrated about something, and you want to tell somebody who will listen.  But instead, that person says, "Huh, why should you feel that way?"  of "Yeah so what?"  or worse, starts giving you solutions ;) - don't you feel really annoyed?  You often know you are not justified in feeling the way you are feeling - but still the fact is that you are feeling that way, and you want to share it with someone.  That's all.  But you don't get what you want.  It can be very irritating.  I know that.  And I know that I have also been guilty of doing the same thing - saying "Stop feeling that way and move on," or something like that.  Because, that is probably the only way we know how to deal with it, trying to be helpful, trying to be uplifting.  But we'll probably be helping more if we just listen.

Many years ago, I heard about a young person who was crying for some reason, and her mother said, "Don't feel sad." And the girl said, "Don't tell me how to feel!"

This made me think.  It is so true - how can we tell people how to feel?  Whatever you say, they will feel what they feel.  All you can do is listen, and then if it is in your control, help them or make them feel better.

Similarly, in your eyes, the child's problem might be tiny.  A miniscule scratch, or some inexpensive thing that broke, or any one of those hundred little things children can find to whine about!

But, at that moment, it is a big thing for the child.  If you say something like, "oh come on, is that all, forget it,"  the child is not satisfied.  Very often, the child can even go into tantrum mode.  All she needs is someone to listen and say, "awww, is that so?"
Now if you are thinking that this is dangerous, that it might lead the child to start complaining more, you are absolutely right.  So the solution is - do not encourage it, do not extend it.  Nothing like, "Awww, where have you hurt yourself, oohhh so sad, is it hurting?  Poor thing.  Come on let me have a look, ohhh so sad..."  - This way you are giving undue attention to it.

So just listen, sympathize, and move on - perhaps look at what you can do about the problem.  Perhaps talk about something else.... here are a couple of real examples from me and Puttachi.

Me: (From next room) What happened?
She: I was coming out of the toilet and I hit my heel on the door. (Nearly crying)
Me: Oh, show, where?  Here?  Just rub it well.  Yeah I know, that must hurt.  When the skin is wet, it hurts more, you know.
She: Really? Why is that? (Hurt completely forgotten, conversation moves in other directions.)

She is building a palace with her blocks, my mom and I are in another room. We hear a loud wail, and sobs, and she comes running here.

Me: What's the matter, Puttachi?
She: The palace broke, it tumbled down!

I hug her, wait for her to calm down a bit. I don't say anything, but just hold her.

My mother says:  So just build it again!
Puttachi literally snarls at my mother - someone she loves so much.

I sign for my mother to not say anything, and still hold Puttachi quietly until she finishes sobbing.

She: Amma, the king's palace broke.  If I try to put it back, it won't be the same again.

Me: That's true.  It'll be different - so then you'll have a new kind of palace, right?

She: But I want the same.... but.. but... (Brightens up!) Amma, I have an idea.  I'll make a palace for soldiers now!  (Runs off happily)

As you can see, I did not do anything at all.  I just held her until she had vented her frustration through tears.  Then she found the solution herself after she was done.

(Disclaimer: I would have done just what my mother did if this had happened a year ago.)

This tactic has worked very nicely with me and Puttachi.  I think the key to this is that the child feels validated, and once she feels that it is okay to feel that way, she can move to other things.

About I hope you can use it with your children.  And I hope I can use it with adults too ;)


Radhika said...

Liked it Shruthi. That one small step of listening does wonders.

Wanderer said...

Awwww .. will you adopt me Shruthi? I promise I won't fight with Puttachi :) We all have felt it as kids - the need of validation for our feelings. What a wonderful revelation.

parijata said...

Loved this post.
I have been sort of doing this unconsciously (I mean, had not read it anywhere), and it felt really good to read this.

Aarthi said...

I was going to say what you said in your final sentence...it would work for everyone "I" included :)

btw I loved your tennis post. I play tennis and shared that post with my husband...

Sowmya said...

Thanks for this invaluable Tip Shruthi!!

Shruthi said...

Radhika, yes, it does!

Wanderer, think again, I am a very strict mom ;)

Parijata, that's so good to hear. Do you also think that your children have responded better with this?

Aarthi, yeah, I love your profile picture. That moment you are poised to serve - so much potential, promise!

Sowmya, hope it helps!

Nithvin said...

Nice post Shruthi! It's so true that as adults we hate it when we are told to suppress or let go of our emotions instantly. So, why expect that from kids. Simple but effective tool :)

austere said...

Didnt I leave a comment here?

I need to learn learn learn this technique.good for adults as well.

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