There is nothing more frustrating than the feeling of invalidation from parents or caregivers. To children, this dismissal sends the message of “your feelings don’t matter.” Growing up this way can have lasting effects, including a strained relationship between parent and child.

What Is Parental Invalidation?

Parental invalidation is when a parent dismisses, undermines, or ignores a child’s emotions, thoughts, and experiences. It can present in many ways, from rejecting the child altogether, to minimizing their emotions to an over-exaggeration. Regardless of its form, invalidation can impact children’s emotional development and their self-esteem.

Why Is Parental Invalidation Harmful?

  • Low Self-Esteem: A child may interpret constant invalidation as feelings of worthlessness. They may grow up feeling like they will never be good enough. This can affect their overall sense of confidence.
  • Loss of Trust: A pattern of invalidation can damage the trust between a parent and child. Eventually, children will learn not to confide in their caregivers, leading to trust issues that develop in adult relationships.
  • Emotional Dysregulation: Invalidation interrupts a child learning to regulate their emotions. They may grow up with little to no knowledge about how they are feeling and why, causing social withdrawal, isolation, and the development of mental health issues.
  • Anger: After being invalidated so many times, children may grow up to resent their parents. As adults, they can form and hold on to grudges, making it difficult to mend the relationship.

Ways to Recognize Parental Invalidation

  • Dismissing Feelings: Saying phrases like “This isn’t a big deal,” or “You’re being too sensitive,” are showcasing to your child that their feelings are wrong. Children will become ashamed of how they are reacting to difficult emotions.
  • Comparisons: A parent telling a child that they should not feel a certain way because somebody else has it “way worse.”
  • Ignoring: This is simply parents ignoring a child’s feelings, expressions, changing the subject, or seeming disinterested as they share.
  • Mocking or Ridiculing: Making fun of a child’s experience or thoughts, belittling them, or using sarcasm as a response to their expressions.
  • Overruling Preferences: This may look like a parent shutting down their child’s ideas. For example, if a child asks for a specific snack, and a parent responds with “no, you’re having this instead,” the parent is ignoring their child’s choice and forcing one upon them.
  • Non-Verbal Cues: Rolling eyes, sighing, or walking away are all non-verbal signs of invalidation. Children perceive these behaviors as their caregivers being uninterested in them.
  • Negative Behavior Patterns: Interrupting or talking over a child when they are trying to express themselves, or even dismissing their accomplishments, are unhelpful patterns of behavior.

Alternative Approaches

How can parents correct their invalidation patterns? Here are some alternative approaches to try:

Active Listening

Give your child your full, undivided attention when they are speaking. Discuss what you hear to ensure you are understanding them, and if not, ask questions for clarification and to show interest.


Even if you cannot relate to what your child is experiencing, try to put yourself in their shoes. This does not necessarily mean to agree with everything they are saying, but acknowledge that you are hearing them and that no matter what, their feelings are valid.


Even parents have reasons to apologize. If you recognize that you invalidated their feelings, own up to the mistake and tell your child you are sorry. Not only does this build a connection between parent and child, but it also teaches your children how to apologize when they’re wrong.

Seek Professional Help

If you notice a disconnect between you and your child, seeking help from a mental health professional can provide support and guidance for improving your relationship. Therapists can teach effective communication techniques and help you find alternate ways of validation. Reach out and schedule a session today!