By Dawn Onley
We humans have a basic desire to feel validated. It’s an inclination that goes back to when we were children, vying for our parents’ attention, particularly if we felt we had to compete with other siblings for that precious time.
Recently, I saw it firsthand in my son and God daughter, who are both five. Over Spring Break, they took turns saying and doing things to curry approval and favor in my eyes – from writing words in a straight line to showing me how well they could listen. They jostled to show me that they could buckle themselves in their car seats, count by 10, say words in Spanish, and color in the lines. I noticed how their eyes would beam when I praised their work and told them how smart they are.
But before long, their need for approval took another turn, as is typically the case when two same-aged children play together for great periods of time. When one of them clearly could do something better than the other, suddenly insecurity reared its ugly head. This was often followed by whines and/or tears and in some cases refusal to participate in the game or exercise any longer.
For children who desire approval from their siblings, cousins, friends and peers (pretty much all children), this has the potential to spell trouble. As they played, what I noticed was whomever was on the losing side of the validation equation would come to me to confirm that they were still appreciated and valued. Even if they couldn’t recognize the same words as the other or didn’t yet know how to tie their shoes, they came to me to make sure they were still smart.
It got me thinking that therein lies the danger with seeking validation from others – however basic and normal it is. Having others recognize and validate us is great, but even if they don’t, we still need to be able to validate ourselves. We need to recognize our own worth. This is something I try to teach my son and God daughter. I tell them to always try their best, and then to be proud of their own effort and the progress they are making. I don’t want them to depend on outside gratification to boost their confidence. I want them to rely on their own incredible capabilities.
I want them to know that they can do whatever they fix their minds to do – and that even if it doesn’t come as easy for them as for someone else, to not get hung up on that. It doesn’t matter. The important part is they can still do it all the same and that they didn’t give up.
I don’t want them to be children who are in constant need of validation. Children who need a lot of validation turn into adults who need constant confirmation and praise. I don’t wish this for them.
I want them to set limits on what they expect from others — and I want them to set them early. Most importantly, I want them to know deep within their little hearts that they are limitless in what they can do — not because of what someone else says or doesn’t say, but because of how God made them.