Validating Feelings in Teens: When Listening Matters More than Solving

by | Jul 17, 2023 | Counseling, Highly Sensitive People (HSP), Self-Esteem, Teen therapy

Validating Feelings in Teens: When Listening Matters More than Solving

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It’s almost automatic in our fast-paced society to suggest solutions any time someone shares their issues or troubles with us. We are compelled to find answers, make repairs, and offer quick fixes.

Even more so, our natural inclination as adults may be to provide those younger than us, like teenagers, with easy fixes to their difficulties. However, this strategy might unintentionally invalidate their emotions and obstruct their own development. By first making teenagers feel heard, understood, and encouraged, they can build their resilience and problem-solving abilities starting at a young age, which is positive for development.

Typically, acknowledging someone’s feelings rather than providing solutions is a better way to demonstrate our empathy and support. In addition to fostering deeper ties, validating someone else’s emotions is a potent approach to demonstrate our sincere concern for their well-being.

But, what is validation?

Validation can be described as the “recognition and acceptance of another person’s thoughts, feelings, sensations, and behaviors as understandable.” [2] It involves being present. For example, holding someone’s hand while they are crying and upset and nodding are ways to show you are actively listening. Before jumping to fix any issues at hand or stressing because you have no idea what to say to help, it is important to firstly show your empathy towards that person through body language.

Let’s get into how to approach validation when it is time for you to verbally respond to someone. By asking a few questions, you can gauge whether the person you are supporting wants emotional assistance through solutions or through comfort. 

It’s not always the ideal strategy, but asking “How can I support you?” can sometimes be effective. However, there are other ways to approach the situation. Sometimes, teens may fire back and become upset that you are asking how to support them in the first place. Take it upon yourself to ask the most tailored question that you can ask [3].

Instead, consider asking questions that are specific to the circumstance or the person, like: 

  “You seem a little upset today. Would you like to talk about it?

  “I am aware that your manager was being difficult today. How have you been dealing with that? [1]

By opening the door and asking open-ended questions to the person you are trying to comfort, you will encourage the person to speak their truths and ultimately feel more comfortable in confiding in you.

Furthermore, validation is such an important skill that is often encouraged and practiced in counseling sessions. One significant part of communication can be practiced through dialectical behavior therapy (DBT), which is learning how to express and manage emotions [4]. You can help your child process significant emotions as they grow older by validating their feelings at an early age.

It’s time to practice validation! The following advice may help you react better the next time your teen wants to talk to you about their feelings [4]:

  1. Listen and don’t rush to speak

Listening first before sharing your opinion can be difficult to do. It takes mindfulness and the ability to be patient. Make sure to process what the other person is feeling rather than just waiting for your chance to speak. By choosing to listen instead of speak, you can make the following person feel more heard and therefore validated.

  1. Restate their feelings to them to show your understanding

In order to restate one’s feelings to them, you first have to be actively listening! Maybe you misheard what your partner is telling you or think their body language is telling a different story? By restating their feelings to show your understanding you can give your full attention to that person and therefore be able to further understand their emotions. Validation can only come from listening and understanding!

  1. Show acceptance of their emotions and experiences

Acceptance can be expressed in different ways as stated above. By listening, restating their feelings, and using accepting words like “I’m so sorry,” or “you are loved,” you can show the person validation while using compassion. Acceptance involves care and attention which can lead to the person feeling more validated overall.

By following these steps, your child will feel more validated and supported.  

Now, there are likely moments when you disagree with your child. This is normal, but doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t be validating their feelings! But, it is crucial to only validate what is actually valid [5]. For example, a teacher might give your teen a failing grade because they did not complete an assignment. Your teen is upset—but they caused the problem, so how can you validate this situation? In this instance, you should support your child in agreeing that it is ok to be upset. As soon as you acknowledge their feelings, you can then discuss how their behavior led to that undesired outcome of a failing grade. If in turn, you are validating without approving the behavior of not completing assignments, you can successfully validate their feelings! It is easier said than done, but will be more beneficial when you are able to differentiate your teen’s feelings as well as your teen’s behavior.

Teens are unfortunately frequently invalidated, especially those from minority groups. Validation may be extremely therapeutic for teens and advantageous to your overall relationship. Teens should be supported and given the benefit of the doubt, but this doesn’t mean that you must agree with everything they say or do.

Overall, validating teenagers’ emotions is a wonderful method to assist their emotional well-being and foster healthy communication. By acknowledging their feelings, exercising empathy, and providing a safe space for expression, we can help teenagers face the complexity of adolescence with confidence and resilience. Keep in mind that sometimes the most helpful support we can give is to simply be there and listen, rather than jumping in with quick fixes.

To discuss how therapy could help you during this season of your life, please contact me or schedule your free 15 minute consultation.


[1] Raypole, C. (2021, September 10). Are you emotionally supportive? 13 ways to know. Healthline. https://www.healthline.com/health/mental-health/emotional-support

[2] Hall, K. (2012). Understanding validation: A way to communicate acceptance. Psychology Today. https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/pieces-mind/201204/understanding-validation-way-communicate-acceptance 

[3] Alcamo, K. (2017, February 6). Can Validation Help You Connect and Bond with Your Teen? GoodTherapy. https://www.goodtherapy.org/blog/can-validation-help-you-connect-bond-with-your-teen-0206174 

[4] May, K. (2020, November 4). How validation can help your teen manage big emotions. Creative Healing. https://creativehealingphilly.com/blog/how-validation-can-help-your-teen-manage-big-emotions#:~:text=Validation%20can%20be%20as%20simple,they%20are%20saying%20or%20doing  

[5] Hannay, C. (2022, July 27). How to validate teens (even when you don’t agree): Center for Adolescent Studies. Center for Adolescent Studies | Competent Training for Professionals working with Adolescents. https://centerforadolescentstudies.com/how-to-validate-teens-even-when-you-dont-agree/ 

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