Healthy parenting requires, and is synonymous with, a functional family system. One cannot exist without the other. The traditional goal of the family unit is to provide a platform for the successful launch of the progeny into adulthood. The most successful family units provide not only for survival needs, like the safety or security of its members, but also for the higher needs, like a sense of belonging and acceptance. Conceptually the family must balance many variable needs of its individual members in order to function well, among them, inclusion, control and intimacy.
A family and its members must deal with issues of inclusion related to issues of bonding, connectedness, loyalty, rituals, values, world view and the organization of the family. How the family is structured as well as the physical and emotional boundaries are a part of this. Also important are the individuals’ roles within family and the formal and informal alliances that demonstrate a particular position within the system.
The healthy family must also deal with the inevitable issues relating to influence and power during conflict. The healthy family system must, at some point, give up the use of manipulation, domination, dictating discipline or coercion to gain or retain power, because they are enviably met with reactive resistance, rebellion, submission, withdrawal and disobedience. If the family is taught techniques of collaborative negotiation, compromise, balancing give and take and ability to working through issues, they become much more functional.
Finally, families must confront issues of intimacy relating to how much open self-disclosure, close personal exchanges and mutual sharing of thoughts and feelings are acceptable, relating to one another as unique personalities, emotionally sharing vulnerabilities.
Listening and Validating
It has been said that ninety percent of behavior problems come from children wanting adults to listen to them. One study reported that the number one request from suicidal teenagers was for adults to listen to them. The medical power of listening has also been proven by various studies. Dr. Paul Standal believes one of the most important emotional skills is the skill of validation. He refers to it as a skill because he believes it can be learned. And, he knows that if you want to have better relationships with people, the skill of validation is extremely useful. By “better,” here he means, for one thing, more equal, in the sense that you are not judging the other person, or giving advice as if you were superior in some manner.
He also means “better” in the sense that, with more validation, you are going to have less debating, fewer conflicts, and less disagreement. You will also find that validation opens people up and helps them feel free to communicate with you. In fact, if there is a communication breakdown, if there is a wall between you and someone else, it probably has been built with the bricks of invalidation. Validation is the means of chipping away at the wall and opening the free flow of communication.
To validate someone’s feelings is first to accept their feelings. Next, it is to understand them, and, finally, it is to nurture them. To validate is to acknowledge and accept each individual’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 him or her to safely share his or her thoughts and feelings. 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.
Sometimes validation entails listening, sometimes it is a nod or a sign of agreement or understanding, and sometimes it can be a hug or a gentle touch. Sometimes it means being patient when the other person is not ready to talk. Validation allows a person to release their feelings in a healthy, safe and supportive way. It also helps us get to know them better. Thus it builds bonds of caring, support, acceptance, understanding and trust. When a person is feeling down, these bonds are sometimes all that another person needs to begin to feel better and solve their own problems.
Key Components of Validation
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