enENG    FR     中文资料
enENG    FR     中文资料

How to use emotional validation to support your teen

April 4th, 2024
By: Margarita Miseros, PhD Student, Therapist

Throughout the course of therapy for many of my teen clients, parents often share an interest in meeting to discuss the intense and over-the-top emotions their adolescents have been expressing at home. In their reports, parents describe their teen holding skewed (irrational) beliefs or perceptions of a given situation/themselves, and experiencing pronounced distress based on these thoughts. 

Here are some examples of teen experiences that are quite common, the teens’ possible interpretations of these experiences, and how they tend to create big emotions.




Social rejection/Loneliness

I am not likeable, 

I have no friends


Unexpected grade (academic)

I am not intelligent, 

I am going to fail


Negative self-image

I am not attractive


High demands

I don’t want to do this, 

I can’t do this


When asked about how they traditionally responded to their teens in these moments, many parents describe a version of the following behaviours: 

  1. presenting solutions/problem-solving/advice-giving (e.g. maybe you can befriend a new group, talk to your friend about this misunderstanding)
  2. rationalizing their teens thoughts (e.g. this is only one test, you have never failed an exam before)
  3. becoming upset or overwhelmed themselves (e.g. raising voice, enough is enough, let’s move on now, you can’t let this get to you)

Of course, when our child experiences any of the emotions listed above, it is completely appropriate for the automatic response to be concern paired with a desire to rectify – to make them feel better – to fix the problem at hand – to talk them out of their distress. This response pattern has been built into us from the first day we held our baby, and we swore we would protect them from everything we could. Of course, we knew then, and we know now, that we cannot protect them from everything – and more so – that protecting them from everything is not the best way to support them. 

Emotions are no exception to this. 

Emotional validation is the key to being able to stand by your teen as they build the tools to navigate difficult situations and emotions. It is different from the aforementioned parental responses (e.g. advice giving, rationalizing) as the aim is not to put an end to a difficult emotional experience by resolving a problem, but to promote an individual’s own understanding and regulation of that emotion by facing it full-on and riding the wave (however big or small it may be).

When we respond with these other strategies (e.g. advice giving, rationalizing), we are delivering the message that one cannot sit with these strong emotions. In doing so, we take away our teens’ opportunity to build coping strategies, and encourage a negative view of their emotions.  Further, by focusing on a solution, we often end up minimizing their emotions, which interferes with their process of building an understanding of what they feel and why, and may leave them feeling alone in their struggle. 

Cue Emotional Validation! Emotional validation is the process through which you demonstrate genuine understanding of another person’s perception and emotional experience. It is an evidence-based, powerhouse of an interpersonal tool. The benefits of emotional validation are generally two-fold, especially between children/teens and their parents. 

Practicing emotional validation is a way to

  1. improve emotion regulation: builds an individual’s skills in accepting and understanding their own emotions and builds their confidence in being able to hold space for these emotions.
  2. improve the parent-teen relationship: builds connection between parent-teen by demonstrating genuine care and understanding.


A recipe for practicing Emotional Validation

Ingredient #1: Ground yourself.

When we are validating someone, we may be holding space for an emotion we do not think “fits the facts” of a situation… and this can be difficult. This becomes even more complex if we need to hold space for this emotion with our teen, whom we desperately want to feel better and talk some sense in to!

Accordingly, it is so important to bring awareness to your own state, feelings, thoughts, emotions to prevent your own emotional storm from sweeping you away into “fix it” territory, and preventing you from effectively supporting your teen as they wade through their intense emotions.

Ingredient # 2: Listen actively.

Go beyond simply hearing your teen. Bring attention to your body language and behaviours to demonstrate that you are actively processing what they are telling you. This could look like: facing your teen without distractions, maintaining eye contact, and engaging in attending cues such as head nodding. Listening in this way will promote feelings of trust and safety between you and your teen, and will support the sharing of information/emotions, which will strengthen your relationship. 

Ingredients #3 and #4: Reflect (emotion-focused) and paraphrase (content-focused). 

Either reflect or paraphrase throughout the conversation (or do both!). 

Reflecting is when you offer an observation (or guess) based on how you imagine your teen is feeling about what they are telling you. When reflecting, you are going beyond the verbal content of what they are saying and you are looking to see the emotion that is present. 

Here is an example of reflecting:

Teen: I don’t want to have to be home by 10pm… everyone else is staying until 11pm!

Parent: You’re really frustrated that we are asking you to be home for 10pm.

Note, you may get it wrong sometimes. You can try again, or your teen may clarify it for you…

Teen: No, I feel it’s not fair – I’m angry!

Parent: I completely see that you are angry about this. 

Paraphrasing is when you restate the verbal content in a simpler/more brief manner. These are some prompts you can use to guide you:

 “It sounds like……………”

 “I’m hearing that……………….”

Using the same example as above, this could sound like:

Teen: I don’t want to have to be home by 10pm… everyone else is staying until 11pm!

Parent: I’m hearing that you would want to be able to stay out until 11pm like everyone else.

These two steps promote your teens’ and your own integration of information, it shows that you are fully tuned into their emotions, and helps foster the connection between you. 

Ingredient #5: Validate – Go with the emotion, not the facts!!!

This step involves an effort to genuinely and non-judgmentally understand the situation from your teens perspective, whether you agree or disagree with their take on it. Go with the emotion, not the facts – meaning: let go of what you know in this moment, and focus on reality as your teen sees it. If you can put yourself in their shoes for a moment, and adopt their thinking (whether you agree with it or not), are you able to understand how they came to feel the way they do? 

This can sound like: “I can understand that it felt like your coach was being hard on you today based on how he spoke to you” or “It must have been really hard to get through your practice while feeling like your coach was being hard on you”. Notice, there is no confirmation of your teens’ perspective (i.e. “Your coach was being hard on you – you’re right!”), but instead the expression of acceptance and understanding that that was their experience – and that it makes sense and is OK for them to feel this way. 

Providing this validation shows your teen you are taking them seriously and that you understand their behavior and feelings within the context of their life and circumstances.

Ingredient #6: Check-in with your teen’s need.

At this point, we can offer a check-in about how to move forward. 

“Would you like me to help you problem-solve this?” (if you get the go-ahead, fix away!!!)

“Is there more you would like me to understand?”

Go slowly, and be gentle – with your teen and with yourselves.


Havighurst, S. S., Kehoe, C. E., & Harley, A. E. (2015). Tuning in to teens: Improving parental responses to anger and reducing youth externalizing behavior problems. Journal of Adolescence, 42, 148–158.

Linehan, M. M. (1997). Validation and psychotherapy.

Linehan, M. M. (2014). DBT (R) skills training handouts and worksheets, second edition (2nd ed.). Guilford Publications.

Shenk, C. E., & Fruzzetti, A. E. (2011). The impact of validating and invalidating responses on emotional reactivity. Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology, 30,163–183.

Shenk, Chad & Fruzzetti, Alan. (2013). Parental Validating and Invalidating Responses and Adolescent Psychological Functioning: An Observational Study. The Family Journal. 22. 43-48. 10.1177/1066480713490900.

Swenson, C. (2022). Treatment Techniques in Dialectical Behavior Therapy. Gabbard’s Textbook of Psychotherapeutic Treatments, 237.

About the author

Margerita Miseros is a Doctoral student in School/Applied Child Psychology at McGill University and a supervised therapist at Connecte Montreal Psychology Group. The team at Connecte loves writing about ways to boost our mental health and bring psychology into our everyday lives. For more helpful tips, check out Connecte’s blogs, podcast, follow @connectepsychology on Instagram or like us on Facebook.