08 June 2018

How Validation and Positive Language Affects Children

Posted in Childcare


When things aren’t going our way and it feels like the world is against us, we want to hear some version of “I get it”, “it is okay”, or “I know you’re doing your best”. Think back to a time where you had to work through a challenge - perhaps it was a hard day at work, the end of a relationship, or having a fight with a family member. Now imagine you’ve confided in someone you trust and respect, and they’ve responded with ‘that’s nothing, I have it worse’, or ‘you always get yourself into these situations’, or ‘I can’t believe you would let this happen’. Everyone has heard a version of this at least once in their life. How did you feel? Unheard? Unsupported? Ashamed? You’re not alone.


Why then, would our kids feel any different? Research show that consistent experiences, whether positive or negative, create neural pathways in developing brains that teach children what response to expect from people around them, and how they should feel about this. So when a child is upset, the more often they are told “you’re ok, that didn’t hurt badly”, or “just don’t think about it and get over it”, the less likely that child will feel that their experiences matter, that their feelings and emotions are understood, and that they are worthy of love and attention.


When we use negative language to describe children - naughty, sook, attention seeker, or bossy - we are actually describing behaviours. When we define and classify children by their behaviour they are more likely to encourage perpetuation of the very behaviours they are trying to reduce. Low self-esteem encourages children to seek connection wherever they can find it, even when it is negative attention such as being disciplined.


For children to have positive self-worth and confidence, and to value and respect themselves and others, the adults in their lives need to separate children from their behaviours, encourage them by using positive language and reframes, as well as validating statements. Children need to believe I’m not a bad person, but my behaviour is not acceptable. Below you will find some examples of validating statements, positive statements and positive reframes.

Validating Statements:

Validation is communicating your understanding about a situation, legitimizing the facts, explaining your own feelings, acknowledging the situation, and respecting emotions. Validating children allows them to express underlying emotions, feel heard, understood, and create a foundation for emotional safety.

Validation does not mean you always agree or like it, it’s not about placating, and it does not solve problem. Validation means that a child knows, "I can share how I feel with you and you won’t tell me it’s not okay to feel that way.”


Here are some validating statements to try:

“That must have made you feel really (angry, sad, scared).”

“How frustrating, I can see how much that meant to you.”

“Tell me if I have this right. What I heard you say is that her comment was really hurtful towards you, and this isn’t the first time you have felt this way?”

“It sounds like this has brought up some feelings of mistrust and betrayal.”


10 Positive things to say to children and young people:
  • "It’s okay to not be okay."
  • "I’m listening."
  • "Everybody makes mistakes, it matters what we learn from them."
  • "You don’t have to like or agree with everything someone says to show them respect."
  • "Your words and actions are powerful."
  • "You are important."
  • "You are learning."
  • "It’s okay to ask for help."
  • "I’m curious about that, can you tell me more?"
  • "I believe in you."
Positive Reframes

Positive reframing helps us to see how seemingly negative attributes can actually be positive and functional, and when highlighted, can boost confidence and self-esteem in children and young people. Here are some positive reframes to try:


Passionate, determined, persistent, confident, strong-willed, decisive.

Attention Seeker

Affectionate, passionate, persistent.


Determined, daring, brave, strong willed.


Straightforward, goal directed, determined, decisive, strong-willed.


Fearless, holds strong beliefs, determined, passionate.


Steadfast, assertive, expressive, captivating.


Imaginative, creative, emotionally aware, spontaneous, enthusiastic.


Perceptive, thoughtful, careful, diligent, cautious.


Communicates needs, has discerning tastes, expressive.


Adventurous, trusting, free spirited, energetic.


Relaxed, carefree, easy going.


Exuberant, gregarious, energetic, expressive, enthusiastic.


Resourceful, understands people, perceptive, intuitive, skilful.


Bold, straightforward, expressive, decisive.


Creative, spontaneous, easy going, imaginative.


Daring, independent, explores boundaries, strong-willed.


Curious, perceptive, inquisitive, intuitive.


Joyful, entertaining, humorous, amusing, personable, sociable, captivating.


Empathetic, sympathetic, insightful, perceptive, thoughtful.


Inventive, creative, ambitious, daring, resourceful.


Determined, diligent, strong-willed, persistent.

Time Waster

Mindful, easy going, non-authoritarian.


Abstract thinker, innovative, information processor, relaxed, easy going.


Expressive, passionate, needs assurance.

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