I have three kids ages four, two and a half, and sixteen months old. We do boo boos. We do A LOT of boo boos. As soon as someone is done with the chronic bruises on their body phase, the next one hits it. I didn’t realize how dangerous it was to learn to…exist really. Walking was precarious enough, but then they try running or it’s climbing and jumping off everything. Frankly, I’m not sure how anyone makes it to 18. Urgent care and I are best friends. We tight. (God bless parent friends that are like “yeah, me too.”)
And without fail, when there is a boo boo, there is a need for immediate medical attention. My two-year-old kills me, fat tears rolling off long lashes and chubby cheeks with “want kissy!” All three of them do it, the baby wants a cuddle, my oldest wants a hug. Half the time I’m frustrated because the scream that made it seem like I needed to call 911 is accompanied by a tiny (or non-existent) injury.
I was doing dishes when my son rushed me with one such “wound” and I tried to explain to him that he didn’t need any first-aid because there was nothing wrong. My next thought was to say he didn’t even need a kissy but my heart stopped me. He wasn’t asking for physical first-aid, he wanted to be validated.
My all-time favorite short film is “Validaton” (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Cbk980jV7Ao). It stars a cute parking attendant who does more than just validate people’s parking and goes on to even change the world with just tender words. It’s only 16 minutes and it’s totally worth your time.
A powerful theme in the film is that everyone wants to be validated for what they do and how they feel. We all have a variety of experiences, perspectives, and feelings, many of them can go unnoticed or unheard, or invalidated. David Augsburger, Senior Professor of Pastoral Care and Counseling in the School of Theology at Fuller University, has said “Being heard is so close to being loved that for the average person they are almost indistinguishable.”
The biggest argument I get against this is that people should not do things to get a pat on the back. I hear that, and that’s one of the last milestones of moral development, to do a thing for the inherent goodness of it. Validation doesn’t take away from that. Stop for a moment and reframe the idea. Validation is a pro-relationship action. Everyone can bloom under a little validation. This isn’t necessarily the same as praise or at all a form of flattery. To validate is to show someone “I see you, I hear you, I understand. I can hold space for you.”
Validation is a powerful resource in the relationship building tool house. So let’s break it down.
Validation starts with an observation on another’s contributions, experience, or perspective. Validation does not have to mean that you accept or condone behavior. It does mean that you can appreciate another’s reality. You can validate people you don’t like, people you don’t agree with, and people you don’t love.
In terms of managing conflict this is powerful because it helps you stop seeing the opposing side as “other.” In fact, the most successful conflict management involves validation. Solutions can only be found and then fully subscribed by all parties when real concerns and perspectives feel heard and appreciated. Hurt and bitter feelings almost always follow unheard viewpoints.
The next component of validation is to articulate the validity or common humanity of what is observed. “That would be hard.” “You did really well on that last project even with that curveball.” “You put a lot of energy into that, I would feel upset too.” “I would feel scared too if I didn’t think my needs were being heard.”
In terms of finding solutions in a conflict, validation gives you credibility with your audience. They are more likely to feel that you understand and your critique or solution is likely to have them in mind since you have a better picture of what’s going on.
Back to the Boo Boos
Now when one of my kids comes running with a grievous injury/non-injury we apply the above recommendations. A good snuggle always helps them feel safe and like I’m listening. Looking over the wound with my eyes, not just a quick glance, shows them and fully informs me about the severity of the issue. If there is a real issue, we get the proper care right away (and I try to articulate what I’m doing as it happens. No one likes when the doctor wheels them away and starts fixing things without an explanation). If this is one of those less severe cases I talk about their feelings about what happened. For example:
-It was probably scary, I would feel scared too if I fell off the couch when I thought I would make it to the ottoman.
-The bump on the bum was unexpected and probably hurt a lot. Even if it didn’t need a band-aid it would be hard to move for a little bit.
-Throbbing is new and you may not have felt something like this before (my kids are little). But we all feel it when we get hurt and it’s normal, you’re not sick.
-Sometimes I feel embarrassed when I cry and I didn’t want to. That’s okay, I won’t tell anyone about it and you can always cry with me.
– I know it’s hard, and I’m sure it hurts a lot, even more than other ouchies you’ve had that needed a band-aid, but I looked it over and turns out you don’t need one.
I don’t always have to list off this many validating points. Sometimes one or two is just enough for my kids to feel heard. Lots of times a good snuggle communicates plenty.
Look for these bids for validation as you engage with others. Sometimes it sounds like a complaint, or a concern. It may look angry, or teary, or withdrawn. It may take a bit of vulnerability on your part. But I promise, as you try to practice validation you’ll find your debates and discussions taking more of a productive and solution seeking turn. Who wouldn’t want that?