Sometimes teens are hard to talk to. Let’s be real…sometimes spouses, children, and even parents are hard to talk to. If I’m honest, I have to admit that sometimes I am hard to talk to. I have discovered a tool to improve communications—a tool to help bridge the communication gap, slow the communication roller coaster, and create better communications with our teens (and any other family member really). We accomplish this amazing feat through validation. That’s right…validation. Recognizing and accepting our teen’s experience as valid, even if we disagree with it, can build better communication. When we accept our teen’s feelings as reasonable, given their understanding and perspective of the situation, we will build more intimate communication with them. Validation builds a bridge to better communication on the pillars of:
· Acceptance. We all desire acceptance. When we validate our teen’s emotional experiences, we communicate acceptance of them, even in the midst of emotional pain or physical changes. This acceptance informs them that they belong…we accept them, differences and all.
· Value. Validation not only expresses acceptance, it communicates how much we value our teen, their perspective, their thoughts, and their feelings.
· Respect. Accepting and valuing our teen’s perspective expresses respect. We all desire respect. We all respond better to those who treat us with respect.
· Honesty. Acceptance, value, and respect open the door for honest communication. Honest communication, premised on acceptance and respect, allows for more open discussion of differences and an earnest seeking for a healthy, respectful solution.
· Calming one another. When we know a person recognizes, understands, and accepts our emotions and struggles, we feel calmer. The same is true for our teens. The feeling of being understood will help calm them and help them learn to manage their emotions. It also opens the door for more communication and problem-solving.
· Identity. Acknowledging and accepting our teens’ emotions allows them the freedom to explore their identity based on the values of acceptance, respect, and honesty. Validation means your teen will not have to argue to prove their point, put up defenses to save face, or disagree to assert their independence. Instead, they can use that same energy to explore their values and identity.
By validating your teen you build a secure bridge to better communication on the secure pillars noted above. That’s all well and good…but how do I validate my teen?
· First, listen. Let your teen complete their story. Let them finish so you have all the information. Listen so you can understand their perspective.
· Second, let them know you get it…you understand what happened from their perspective (even if you disagree). Strive to understand so well that their actions make sense based on their level of maturity, the knowledge they have acquired, and the perspective they have.
· Third, let them know you understand how they feel. Combine the second and third step into a statement of your understanding of what happened and how it made them feel…from their perspective. Keep listening until you can make that statement and they respond with something like “Finally, you understand.”
· Fourth, based on their perspective and what they told you, let them know that their emotions make sense. This means really working to see things through their eyes.
· Fifth, empathize with their emotions.
· Finally, problem-solve with them if they want help with a solution.
Validation will build a strong bridge of communication built on honesty, respect, and acceptance. It will bridge the communication gap with your teen…and just about anyone else in the family as well.