The term and concept of "validation" has a wide range of meaning and is often understood to mean approval. In the sense in which we will be talking about it, it is an outward unconditional acceptance of persons and events as they are at this moment. It is a spoken observation of one's perception of another's thoughts and feelings, without judgment or resistance. In Catholic terms, it is the exterior practice of total abandonment to the Divine Will. It's not approval of foolishness, evil or sin, but acceptance of what IS at this moment, without reacting to it unconsciously, bringing clarity and presence to a situation which warrants your full attention.
For any change, development or growth, to take place, whether in nature or in the spiritual realm, there must be a fixed, constant, unchanging object against which another object can
"push." The essence of unconditional love and acceptance is, like God, its "unchangingness." It provides an immovable object against which a thing can push in order to effect change, and in this sense it is satisfying and fulfilling.
Unconditional loving acceptance of God's will is the one thing required of us for growth in holiness and salvation. From page 39 of Trustful Surrender to Divine Providence (TStDP), "Since it is the most perfect act of charity and the most pleasing and acceptable sacrifice that is given to man to offer to God, there can be no doubt that whoever practices entire submission to His will lays up inestimable treasures at every moment and amasses more riches in a few days than others are able to acquire in many years and with great labor. To remain indifferent to good fortune or to adversity by accepting it all from the hand of God without questioning, not to ask for things to be done as we would like them but as God wishes, to make the intention of all our prayers that God's will should be perfectly accomplished in ourselves and in all creatures is to find the secret of happiness and content." All suffering (distinct from pain) is the consequence of resistance to God's will in this moment. From The Dialogue of St. Catherine of Siena, A Treatise of Prayer: "For I wish thee to know that all the sufferings which rational creatures endure depend on their will, because if their will were in accordance with mine they would endure no suffering, not that they would have no labours on that account, but because labours cause no suffering to a will which gladly endures them, seeing that they are ordained to My will." We manifest resistance either by running from the painful memories of our past to the hope of a brighter future, or from making the even more insanely futile attempt to hide from the prospect of a dire future in the happy memories of days gone by. In both cases we are anxiously fleeing non-existent pain, or pain which exists only in our imaginations. (This is life in the darkness of Plato's cave!) It's not pain itself which causes suffering, but resisting pain. The moment we stop resisting God's will for us in this moment (experienced by the mind as embracing suffering, see end note from Divine Intimacy), all suffering vanishes. To live we must die, to be free of suffering we must embrace it. Or in the words of St. John of the Cross, mapping the way of the Nada in his Ascent of Mount Carmel, "In order to have pleasure in everything, Desire to have pleasure in nothing. In order to arrive at possessing everything, Desire to possess nothing. In order to arrive at being everything, Desire to be nothing. In order to arrive at knowing everything, Desire to know nothing. In order to arrive at the wherein thou hast no pleasure, Thou must go by a way in which thou hast no pleasure. In order to arrive at that which thou knowest not, Thou must go by a way that thou knowest not. In order to arrive at that which thou possessest not, Thou must go by a way that thou possessest not. In order to arrive at that which thou art not, Thou must go through that which thou art not." Our children are born already on the way of the Nada. They are born knowing nothing, possessing nothing, being nothing more than what they are in this moment. Communicating to them our acceptance of them and the circumstances of their lives as they are in this moment, loving their "littleness," makes their "Ascent" sweet and light, free of unnecessary obstacles--free of unnecessary suffering--resilient in embracing God's will, not resistant to it. Baptism is the sacrament whereby a person is released from the bonds of sin (detached from horizontal attachment), becoming a child of God (vertically oriented). Parents needn't worry--anxiety cannot exist in the presence of faith. The child's innate drive--to learn to love as Christ loves--is now oriented toward their eternal destiny--Divine Union--and all things (all his impulses) work toward this end. It is the task of parents to bring the child to a deeper knowledge of their Heavenly Father by communicating to them on the deepest level--a level beyond thought and feeling, a level that is known in the core of their very being--the incomprehensible attributes of God--omnipotence, omniscience and omnipresence. When parents consistently communicate understanding to their children, their children learn about God's omniscience; when parents are consistently present to their children, their children learn about God's omnipresence; and when parents "believe all things, hope all things, endure all things..." with patience and humility their children learn about God's omnipotence. Their faith in their parents transfers seamlessly to faith in God.
Validation, or open unconditional acceptance of persons and events as they are at this moment is a most effective means of teaching our children, by our example, trustful surrender to Divine Providence. In the book, Light and Peace, Fr. Quadrupani makes a distinction between the will, which even God does not attempt to force, and the consequences (including emotional consequences) of one's actions: "These persistent temptations come from the malice of the devil," says St. Francis de Sales, "but the trouble and suffering they cause us come from the mercy of God. Thus, despite the will of the tempter, God converts his evil machinations into a distress which we may make meritorious." (italics mine) While we may not approve of our children hurting each other, for example, in their anger, jealousy, greed, etc., we can accept the thoughts and feelings behind their actions as crosses sent to purify us and them. From page 97 of TStDP, "It is then a truth of our faith that God is responsible for all the happenings we complain of in the world and, furthermore, we cannot doubt that all the misfortunes God sends us have a very useful purpose." When we voice our acceptance of our children's thoughts and feelings, as a manifestation of God's mercy which is happening to them even as it is happening to us, not as who they or we ARE, we show forth that constancy without which no change can take place, and we help them to grow in unconditional love and acceptance of their Heavenly Father and his Almighty Will--with the support of which constancy everything happens.
When children feel the security of unconditional love and acceptance, they can come to rest in the face of a problem and begin to see whether or not it's something they can solve, or whether it's just something that has to be accepted. But when they feel that their feelings and thoughts are unacceptable and rejected, their anxiety leads to confusion and they get "stuck." Validation is a practice we can use not to control our children or change them, but to provide them with a secure refuge of love and trust, from which they can move forward toward growth in maturity and holiness. An action, performed for self-serving reasons, merits no grace for anyone, but an action performed with faith, for the love of God is meritorious, and is therefore transformative. Validation cannot be done to manipulate the child. It must be done with trustful surrender--unconditional acceptance--before any good can come of it.Additionally, the "safety" parents provide with their unconditional acceptance makes it possible for a child to remain humble by allowing him to accept his own "littleness" (TCJ), growing in self-knowledge, and abiding in the dependability of his parents' care--trustful surrender to "parental providence"--which naturally and easily transfers to trust in God.
Quite often with validation, more crying ensues rather than an immediate abatement. This needn't be cause for alarm. If a child has been "holding on" to a lot of frustration, he will use the safety of this moment to "offer up" all of it, releasing pent up feelings in order to move on with no residual negative "baggage." At these times, parents can focus on being fully present to their children, making of themselves a basin in which to receive all their child's suffering, released by his tears. Both parent and child will come to a deeper faith and trust in one another, growing in humility without fear.
Parents needn't fear their child's cries, frustration, tantrums, or most importantly, saying no to unreasonable requests. These situations are opportunities for parent and child to grow in self-knowledge, and mutual respect. A secure vertical attachment between parent and child supports and facilitates progress in divine union for both. It isn't necessary to dramatize the situation or the child's reactions. Peaceful surrender to the moment as it is teaches children not to fear accepting God's will for them. The unchangingness of unconditional acceptance on the part of the parents gives the child a firm ground under their feet from which to move forward. Children and parents grow in resiliency and problem solving skills.
Avoiding dramatizing their feelings and the surrounding events, evaluating and offering "escape routes" sends the message that suffering is an ordinary part of life, not to be feared or fled from, but accepted, strengthened by and moved beyond, after which comes joy and peace, the fruit of maturity and growth in sanctity.
Of course, there will always be times when we are overwhelmed by our pain and just can't wiggle our way into accepting it, accustomed as we are to resisting it and trying to accomplish things by our own efforts (See note from Divine Intimacy at end). At these times we can at least resign ourselves to our resistance, in humility, conscious of how utterly small and weak we are, and casting ourselves on God's mercy in an act of faith. If we're dealing with a situation that for whatever reason we find impossible to accept, we can at least accept that we are too weak to accept it. St. Thérèse said, "When we accept with mildness the humiliation of having manifested our imperfection, the grace of God returns immediately," and "The weaker we are and the more we are without desires or virtues, the more are we receptive of the operations of God's love in us."
Validating is a very simple "art" which one can begin practicing with a child of any age by expressing with words and "mirrored" emotions what is most obviously the reason for the child's distress. For example, a mother might simply say to a crying infant, "Your tummy hurts," or "You're tired," or "You want mommy to hold you because you're scared." When a child gets hurt or is frustrated a parent might simply say, "You skinned your knee. That hurts. Would you like me to kiss it?" or "You're upset because you wanted to go the store with Daddy and he couldn't take you," or "You want to play with the big boys and they won't let you." A loving embrace, or closeness of a nature that is comfortable to the child reinforces the lesson of acceptance. At this point I want to clarify that nothing parents do out of love for their children is "bad" (Rom 8:28 "And we know that all things work together unto good to them that love God."). It may just be imperfect. But when we make it a habit or rule to manipulate our children's feelings, for better or worse, we may do them a disservice that will have long term consequences for them and us. When we first begin to practice trustful surrender and to learn the skill of validation, it may be necessary for us to have some scripted responses, but as we become more and more attuned to our children's feelings and needs, we can begin to relax and respond with whatever seems appropriate in the moment. If you've acknowledged a child's feelings of frustration or disappointment and it's obvious that the futility is sinking in, that he's "offering it up," so to speak, letting go of his unfulfillable desire at the moment and accepting what is in fact God's will, and your own feelings of compassion and mercy for this suffering child move you to suggest that perhaps some time at a later date he may be able to satisfy this desire, then say that to him. God also supports us with the promise of future fulfillment (fulfillment which can actually be ours NOW, as soon as we are able to accept that we will never find fulfillment by our own means). If you realizes that there was a misunderstanding, I think it's always good to clear it up and make an effort to help your child know and feel that he is understood by you, even when you can't grant his request. The books, Non-Violent Communication, by Marhsall Rosenberg, and How To Talk So Kids Will Listen and Listen So Kids Will Talk, by Faber and Mazlish, are very good help for learning to practice validation, which, in turn, facilitates the practice of submission to the Divine Will, excellently outlined in the books Trustful Surrender to Divine Providence, by Fr. Jean Baptiste Saint-Jeur, and Blessed Claude de la Colombiere; and Abandonment to Divine Providence, by Jean-Pierre de Caussade. Although in my opinion, it's more advantageous to begin with Trustful Surrender, the interior disposition, before trying to change the exterior--Faith before Works.
Some parents inadvertently take on the blame for the child's feelings, saying things like, "You're upset because Mommy won't let you...", "You're angry at Daddy because he..." I would say that it's better to say something like, "You're upset because you wanted... and it didn't work out for you." This is more in keeping with reality (again, see notes below), and will definitely avoid his experiencing those debilitating feelings of victimization which lead to anxiety and the flight from vulnerability, i.e. pride. Even when we apologize for mistreating our children (or anyone), or losing our tempers, it's always better to say, "I'm sorry for the way I behaved today. The things I said/did were unkind/untrue and I wish I hadn't said/done them. I wanted/expected such and such and when I didn't get it I reacted badly/selfishly," (see note from Intro to the Devout Life) or "I'm sorry I hit you," instead of "I'm sorry I hurt you." We can apologize for our own words and actions, or lack thereof, but we can't really apologize for the way another person experiences them. Living this rule will protect us and others from empty, meaningless apologies like, "I'm sorry you were upset by what I said," or "I'm sorry you were offended, etc." Jesus did not aplogize to the crowd for how they reacted to His teaching on the Eucharist. It will also help us not to be utilitarian in our charity, chosing to just do the loving thing whether or not we profit from it. This is a very helpful practice to detach from our horizontal orientation, because we begin to see God's will in all things, and become more blind and deaf to man's will. This will also help us to define our's and other's boundaries, which is essential for our children's healthy individuation, milestones that are necessary for them to reach if they are ever to offer themselves unreservedly to a future spouse and/or God.
(Divine Intimacy, 242, THE OBSCURE LIGHT OF FAITH: Faith is certain because it relies on the word of God, who can neither deceive nor be deceived; in this sense we can say that faith is clear, "free from errors" (J.C. SC, 12,3), admitting no doubt, since no one can doubt God's word. But at the same time, it remains obscure, because it does not show us the truths which it proposes for our belief and, therefore, they remain mysteries to us. Let us remember the pitcher that contains a lighted but invisible lamp. This obscure side of faith is, at the same time, both painful and glorious for us. It is painful because we cannot see what we believe, painful because an act of faith often exacts a leap in the dark, a thing repugnant to human nature which likes to be in control, to know what it is doing and to proceed on known facts. (emphasis mine) The more elevated supernatural realities are, the greater is their obscurity--even darkness--to the intellect, which is incapable of proceeding without the aid of the senses, and incapable of embracing the infinite. On the other hand, however, it is this very obscurity which constitutes the merit and glory of our act of faith: merit, because it is a wholly supernatural act based not on what we can see and verify, but solely on what God has revealed to us; glory, because our act of faith gives all the more glory and honor to God, the more it relies solely on His word.)
(Divine Intimacy, 247, THE MOTIVE FOR HOPE: "God wishes the certitude of our hope to rest upon Him alone. Although He demands our cooperation and our good works, He does not want us to base our confidence on them... Souls who are acuustomed to depend on thier own strength and who delude themselves, thinking they can enter more deeply into the spiritual life by their own personal resources, find this lesson hard to understand. That is why when the Lord wills them to progress, He makes them go through painful states of powerlessness, permitting them to feel the rebellion and repugnance of nature that they may be convinced of the vanity of placing their confidence in themselves.")
(Intro to the Devout Life, on Confession: "Again, do not be satisfied with mentioning the bare fact of your venial sins, but accuse yourself of the motive cause which led to them. For instance, do not be content with saying that you told an untruth which injured no one; but say whether it was out of vanity, in order to win praise or avoid blame, out of heedlessness, or from obstinacy.")