communication motherhood parenting

A Safe Space: Validating and Acknowledging Children’s Thoughts and Emotions

One of the things I have learned (and am still learning) in this parenting journey is that children have a ton of thoughts and emotions. Just like adults, sometimes those thoughts and emotions can get overwhelming and they need someone to talk to. They also need someone safe who will just “listen”. In those moments, it is so important to provide a safe space where your children can experience you validate and acknowledge their emotions. My household had just such a moment…

lonely girl sitting on a doorway
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Our Honeybee had a rather emotionally charged night yesterday.  After she and I returned home from an extracurricular activity, she discovered that her 6-year-old sister had allowed her 3- and 4-year-old siblings into the room that Honeybee and A shared.  Despite her big brother and father being home and continually checking in, at some point the smaller children managed to access her piggybank to throw money on the floor while playing grocery store.  They also broke her new boxes of crayons and found (and promptly absconded with) a small container of slime (which is not allowed in the house at all, but that’s a different story).  Honeybee was so hurt.

She rapidly descended to a place of tears and huge wracking sobs while she tried to explain to my husband what she was feeling.  He attempted to give her words that would calm her emotions, but quite frankly…they fell short.  I waited until he’d returned to additional tasks and then called our daughter to the bedroom.

I held my daughter and acknowledged the hurt and anger that she felt.  I told her that it was okay for her to be angry and hurt.  She had placed those things in her room in what she deemed was a safe place and had come home to find that safety violated.  She found her privacy invaded, her items disregarded and cast aside.  That wasn’t fair and wasn’t right. It was perfectly normal and understandable for her to feel as she was feeling.  I felt her relax as she recognized that I didn’t try to explain the problem away or make excuses.  Three or twenty-three, her siblings invading her stuff in her room while she was gone and without permission is a blow.  She shared additional thoughts on how she was feeling, agreed that we find additional solutions to keep this from happening in the future, and finished our conversation with hugs.

a woman hugging her daughter
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I was so very thankful for that interaction.  When I was younger, children were to be seen and not heard.  Our emotions, feelings, and thoughts were never validated. If we felt the world or a situation was unfair, that was just how it was—no consequence.  We were taught to ‘soldier on’ and ‘power through’. There were a number of reasons for this including a different generational upbringing, but it certainly caused its own hurt. I remembered myself at a younger age thinking of how I felt at those moments and promising myself that I wasn’t going to let my own daughter feel the same way.  And now, here I am with four daughters of my own and two sons. I’ve learned to employ the following to try and ensure my littles feel supported and validated in their experiences. I don’t always hit thr mark, but I know they appreciate the earnest effort.

  • Put yourself in their shoes.  It’s easier to empathize with someone when you have experienced what someone is experiencing.  In the case of my daughter, it was pretty easy to think of the times I have had as a child and as an adult whose privacy was violated.  I’ve experienced when people entered my safe spaces and crossed boundaries and stepped on my perceptions of security.  Remembering those times made me a more effective listener and supporter for her.
  • Acknowledge their thoughts, opinions, and/or emotions.  When our daughter was initially crying, one of the other family members stated that “3- and 4-year-old kids are going to get into stuff.  It’s what they do”.  The person was correct.  Toddlers and preschoolers do get into different things, but that doesn’t change the fact that someone is hurting over their actions.  If someone drops a heavy object on your foot, it is still going to hurt whether the dropper is four or forty.  One may not “know better” but the pain is still there.  Acknowledging the pain and frustration of the evening’s events for my daughter made her feel heard and supported.  I have no problem with that.
  • Work with them to find a solution.  After my daughter shared how she was feeling about the evening, she and I brainstormed to find additional solutions to prevent this from happening again.  She and her 6-year-old sister share a room.  Moving one sister out of the room isn’t an option right now so that won’t be a workable solution for us.  We decided to get her an Amazon footlocker (like one I had during my college years) complete with lock and key.  With that, she will be able to pack away sentimental items and the like and not have to worry about a repeat incident.  We also decided to make a rule that the littles were not allowed in she and her sister’s room without both of their permission and an adult being in the home.  In this case, both my husband and son were home, but had to step outside to handle a home maintenance item. The damage was done rather quickly.
  • Let them know that you will always be their safe place. After our conversation, my daughter seemed to feel better despite remaining understandably heartbroken about her things. Later, when it was time for bed, she thanked me for not “just ignoring that I was sad even if they didn’t mean it”. She laid in my lap and hugged me and sat there just safe in the comfort of knowing that she could vent and be upset and not be judged. I pray that for all of our children…and yours too.

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