One important way we nurture emotional intelligence in kids is by helping them learn to trust and understand their feelings and perceptions by validating their reality. This can be harder than it sounds.
While we’d all like to believe that we love and accept our kids unconditionally, they will inevitably have opinions, perceptions, or interests that differ from our own. And sometimes that can be hard to accept. Navigating these waters where we disagree or wish them to “see it our way” can be tricky: we want to assert our values and guide them. They need to assert their preferences and own ways in the world. We want to honor who they are and want them to know we believe in them.
At the end of the day, one of our big fat parenting goals is to let them know that we see them. We see THEM—as who they are—not only when they shine as who we want them to be. This simple act of recognition is critical to validate their reality and to help them be in touch with their feelings. As we take on this hard work, here are a few ideas to help keep things in perspective:
Respect your child’s right to experience and see things differently from you. (“That movie was awesome!” “I hate family picnics.”)
Remember that you don’t need to agree to validate their feelings. (“So you feel your teacher was unfair.” “You really like that show.” “I’m sorry you don’t enjoy picnics.”)
Take them seriously. This is particularly important when they are upset, frustrated, or angry. We can often jump too quickly into “wanting to make it better” or showing them they’re wrong by minimizing their feelings or trying to add context and perspective. If you’ve ever been on the other end of this kind of often well-meaning condescension, you know well that there is nothing more enraging! (“It’s just a toy car. You’ve got so many others.” “There will be other parties you can go to.”) Everyone is entitled to their disappointments.
Be careful of statements that inadvertently undermine the reality of their experience. (“Big boys aren’t afraid of the dentist.” “Your sister isn’t mean.”)
Connect experiences they’ve had to help explain other perspectives. (“Remember when you were disappointed about missing the game? That’s kind of how I’m feeling now.”)
And in instances where you really need for them to try and see it your way, there’s no better place to start the conversation than by recognizing the place they are starting from. –t