Tips &

Tips &

Five ways to swap praise for validation

February 2023
Janthea Brigden
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I recently thanked someone for simply being themselves. This person has helped me in many ways that they probably aren’t even aware of. Although I can’t speak about exactly how this made them feel, they certainly felt affected by my comment enough to mention it later in a social media post. 

The power of validation

Someone once said the same to me and I remember feeling overwhelmed by the total sense of acceptance, release and acknowledgement. I felt truly seen and heard and spent the rest of the day feeling relaxed and content. 

The ‘release’ I felt,  was from letting go of the need to ‘prove’ my self-worth and from the fear that I might disappoint in some way. Many other adults suffer this too and most of it stems from childhood and how we were praised.

Understanding the power of validation, I often thank children in this way but it’s easy to forget how important it is for adults to experience unconditional validation. 

When we feel validated it makes us feel safe around someone. We feel reassured that we are accepted by that person as a whole, rather than only for specific actions or ways of behaving.  

What is the difference between praise and validation? 

At first glance, praise and validation seem the same. They are both forms of showing appreciation towards a person. 

If you praise someone, surely that only be a positive action? What could be problematic about giving a child praise if they’ve done something you’re pleased with? 

The problem with praise

When we praise someone, it puts the emphasis on the outcome of a person’s actions rather than the process.

This means it can come with an underlying coercion that can feel conditional. In the same way that calling a child ‘good’ or ‘bad’, is problematic, praise is also subjective from person to person and situation to situation. 

For example, a child’s music teacher might praise them for playing the drums in class, whilst if they’re doing it at home when a parent is on the phone, they will likely be told off. 

These differences can be confusing for a child, especially when they are young. 

Take these for some examples: 

“You are such a good cook”

Message they receive: “I need to make sure I always cook great meals “ 

“You’re much better at that than I am!”

Message they receive : “I need to keep on getting this right”

“You are amazing.”

Message they receive: “What did I do? What do I need to do again? What if I don’t do whatever it was? I better just wear myself out doing everything I can to keep being  ‘amazing’!”

Punishment and reward

Our society has been based on a punishment and reward system of raising children for so long, that we are all conditioned to associate love, acceptance, validation and self-worth, with other people's praise, particularly that of our parents.  

Many of us develop an identity based on the skills, behaviours and interests that we’re praised or criticised for when we are children. 

Children constantly seek ways to gain our approval, even when we think they are ‘acting up’. 

By being deliberately annoying or causing us a ‘problem’, they are often simply doing the best they know how to find a way to win our love and approval. 

For some children, who only get a caregiver's attention, (love), when that person is annoyed or angry, then finding ways to get it, is their way of surviving and receiving the validation they need.  

Punishment and anger are better than no attention. It becomes a repeated cycle until the adult is able to break it and support the child with unconditional love. 

Five ways we can validate without praise

1. Be clear and specific

 Describe the behaviour that you are validating. For example: 

“You held my hand all the way across the road”

You finished your homework without me reminding you”

“You remembered to clear your plate from the dining table” 

2. Say what you are feeling

Describing yours and your child’s feelings when validating, helps children to name and understand them, themselves.

For example: 

“You held your cup with two hands and all the juice stayed inside. You look very pleased!” 

 Sometimes it can help to mention the physical feeling, for example:  “My tummy feels warm and fuzzy when I see you learning to do more things by yourself”.

3. Acknowledge the effort or the task

Acknowledgement of someone’s effort regardless of the outcome goes a long way to making them feel validated. 

For example: 

I expect it felt a bit boring going around Tesco today. Thank you for staying close to me and not complaining. I feel so glad we’ve finished all the shopping now!” 

 This sort of validation says ‘I saw and appreciated your effort”, which is reward enough without resorting to bribes. 

4. Vocalise your appreciation

 When someone validates us just for being who we are with no strings attached, it moves us on a deep level. Try saying:  ”Thank you for being you” or “I think you are great”, for no particular reason occasionally. Just because! 

5. Replace labels with sentiment

 I often hear adults say “you are such a good boy/girl" when what they really mean is ‘I love you”. 

“ I love you” is a simple, powerful validation which isn’t used enough. Try saying it instead of “good boy/girl”.

Can you recognise the difference between praise and validation in the way that you speak to others, or others speak to you? What difference does feeling validated make to your life?