The Importance of Validation

The Importance of Validation

Validation by SAYing WHAT YOU SEE (SWYS) is one of the simplest and most effective coaching skills. This is true in any interpersonal situation, but especially with kids.

I was at a restaurant recently where a large family had gathered for a birthday celebration.  It was the end of the meal, and a little girl (about 4) was running around the table and playing. Suddenly she tripped and fell down, then burst into tears. Her mom went over to her and began to comfort her.

Meanwhile, another family member asked the waiter to take a group photo. Seeing this, the mom picked up the little girl, who was still crying, and carried her over. They all posed for the picture, and the mom and dad tried to get their daughter to smile by saying, “You’re OK,” and “Smile!” and tickling her. However, the girl was still  upset, and the picture was taken with a crying child in the front still trying to prove her tears were justified.

I know the parents of this little girl had two goals: 1) for the child to stop crying and smile for the photo and 2) for it to happen quickly, so as not to inconvenience anyone. Often, children will calm themselves, given enough time. They just need to express their emotions fully before they can move on. In a situation like this, however, where allowing a crying spell isn’t an option, validation can really help expedite things.

Most of the time, being heard is all a child needs to feel fully self-expressed. Once the communication is complete, the child no longer has to demonstrate her feelings through her actions. Meeting the child’s need for power by putting her in the lead at the end makes it easy for her to cooperate.

Mom (SWYS): You fell down! You didn’t like that!


Child: (cries)


Dad (SWYS): You’re very upset. Looks like you might be hurt.


Child: (shakes head no, continues crying)


Dad (SWYS): You just didn’t like that. It was unexpected and scary!


Child: (nods, calms down)


Mom (SWYS): “Looks like you are ready to join us, now. Show me where you want to stand.”

I saw a similar situation when a preschooler fell off of a picnic bench. The little boy started crying and went from person to person, all of whom said things like, “You’re OK!” ” You’re not hurt.” “You don’t need to cry,” until he found my dad who said, “You didn’t like that. It scared you!” The child instantly stopped crying, nodded and ran off to play.

The best part of using SAY WHAT YOU SEE to validate children is that you are modeling compassion and understanding which helps them effortlessly build their own “people skills” tool kit. Children who are validated naturally validate others.

I know there are definitely moments in my life where a little understanding went a long way. Can you think of a time in your life when someone’s understanding and validation helped you cope with something difficult?


  1. Many of the scenarios in SWYS involve young children, under age five. I work with 6-8 year olds. Can you give a few examples for that age group – I wonder if the language changes at all? Sometimes this language seems rather juvenile or babyish.
    Also, I live with a near 18 year old. Do you all practice this with teens also?

  2. Betsy Blackard |


    This is an excellent question, and one we get a lot. In fact, it’s such a good question that it inspired me to write a whole new blog post! You can read it here:

    It sounds like you may have some specific challenging moments in mind. If you tell us the situations with as much detail as possible (e.g., what happened, what you said, what the child said, how it turned out), we would LOVE to give an example of a SWYS response. It could turn into yet another post! We love to do Q&A-style blog posts with real-world examples.

    For more blog posts with teens/tweens, you can check out
    as well as page 41 in Sandy’s SWYS For Parents and Teachers book:

    Thanks so much for your comment!

  3. Jab |

    I’m not having much success with SWYS. I must be missing something about it. For example when my daughter trips or falls and starts crying we go to her pick her up or hold her and say something like “you fell, that looked like it hurt, that startled you, or that was scary…”. But thru her tears she says she didn’t fall, it doesn’t hurt even thou she’s bleeding… When we didn’t see the fall, we can’t get any information from her about what hurts.

    Lately this denial has spread to other things, like “when you are ready we can go to the playground” her response is “I am ready”, me: “you are still in your pajamas”, her: “no I’m not, I’m dressed”. Honestly I don’t know how to proceed after that.

    • Betsy Blackard |

      Hi Jab,

      Thanks for the question! As you might have seen this month, this problem was relevant for so many of our readers that it turned into this month’s blog post! You can see your question and my response in our post: “Q & A: Contrary Child.”

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