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Validation of Emotions Vs Coddling

Emotional Validation Vs. Coddling
By Jacqueline King-Presant, M.Ed.

An awesome, well-informed parent brought up a great point recently at a discussion group that I think many parents can relate to on the topic of validating our children's emotions: “Isn’t that coddling? Isn’t coddling what causes children to become entitled and dependent? Isn't this where so many issues are coming from today?”

I would love to try to address this and shed some light on the matter. I totally see where these parents are coming from. Since so many of us were told to just “get over it” or given the message that our emotions were unacceptable, it can be difficult to draw the distinction between these two terms “validation” and “coddling” since both involve acknowledging emotions.

What is Validation?

So no, validation is not coddling – in fact it is kind of the opposite. It is acknowledging, accepting, and mirroring back a child’s emotional experience to them, so that they may come to terms with it, process it, and move on to be a more empowered, capable, and mature person.

Validation is trust in the child’s need and ability to fully experience and express whatever emotion they are going through, before they can understand the experience enough to choose more mature ways of expressing emotions.

Through the practice of validation, the child gets the message: “Mom/dad understands and accepts me no matter what. She/he is there for me and trusts me to handle my own emotions and problems. I know emotions are normal and that I will be able to handle them better and better every day.”

A parent may “hold the space” by showing warmth, kindness, and compassion while the child expresses the emotion fully or help them to completely release the emotion through continued validation and understanding, but they might also simply go on with whatever they were doing; simply validating with a smile, kiss, or quick statement such as, “Wow, that's hard to do huh?”. They may use questioning or informing to help the child understand more about the situation, without necessarily telling them what to do.

“Validation creates strength, emotional intelligence, social skills, promotes independence, and improves parent/child relationship.”

A parent does not take responsibility, over identify, or feel a need to do anything about the child’s emotions when validating. They know it is the child’s experience and responsibility, and their’s alone. They may set boundaries as a confident, knowledgeable leader and work with the child about how, what, or where the emotion may be expressed so that other’s rights and choices are also respected. “You aren’t happy about what you're sister did, I get it! I have to keep her safe too, so later let’s talk about what to do when you feel angry, or better yet maybe you will come up with your own idea first! I will always try and be here to protect both of you when someone is unable to control themselves.”

Validation creates strength, emotional intelligence, social skills, promotes independence, and improves parent/child relationship. Yay! That’s what we want, right?


When coddling, parents acknowledge the child’s emotion, then take on responsibility to make it go away by doing something like fixing or indulging. When coddling, parents may dramatize situations, blame others for their child’s problems, become over involved, and infantilize the child.

Coddling is distrust in the child’s ability to handle situations and emotions on their own. It includes an energy of anxiety that the child picks up on, making it even harder for them to accept emotions and gain emotional intelligence. It might sound something like, “Oh baby what’s wrong? No, no, don’t be sad; I’ll give you the toy you want/call your teacher/make her give you your XYZ back to make you feel better. Don’t worry.”

Coddling parents often have issues setting appropriate limits. They give the child power over their emotions and actions, a power which a child cannot handle. The child will continue to test the parent to find where the boundaries lie, and to try to ask – through their actions – the parent to take on a leadership role.

Through the practice of coddling, the child gets the message, “Mom/dad thinks I am a baby and doesn’t think I am capable of handling my life on my own. She/he will fix my problems or give me what I want when I cry, yell, scream, hit, threaten etc. I can control others with my emotions and I deserve for others to do what I want if I am upset.”

Coddling leads to learned manipulation, feelings of helplessness and victimization, dependence, disempowerment, and entitlement. It harms the parent/child relationship due to lack of trust and true unconditional acceptance as well as feeling controlled and babied.

So let’s validate our children's emotions, not coddle them.

Jacqueline King-Presant, M.Ed. is a child development specialist and consultant.

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