The Subtle Invalidation of Children

The following excellent article is contributed by Diane D. Norgard, a Parent Consultant at the Mace-Kingsley Family Center.


Definition of Invalidation

The definition of invalidation is: refuting or degrading or discrediting or denying something someone else considers to be fact.  Basically it is no attention.  It actually acts as force and is equivalent to being struck.

I have seen invalidation take a couple of different forms.  The first form is obvious:  Loud outright words and actions that let someone know they are wrong!  The recipient of this force should be doing things the way the person sending the force wants, whether the other is in agreement or not.  It is outright bullying.

The second form is more subtle and insidious.  It is the smiling, “helpful” criticism, the lack of attention or dismissal of something important to another.

Children & Subtle Invalidation

Children and teens are particularly susceptible to invalidation in ways we as adults do not recognize.  Because we are not standing in their shoes and “being” them we just fail to see it.  But in counseling, this comes up as a problem for a lot of kids, which is why I am addressing it now.  Mind you, we can all be guilty of this one, even kids and teens themselves with each other.

Let me give you some examples of this so you can perhaps recognize it better in the future:

I will start with one I myself was guilty of.  I love my kids so much and I am so happy to have them in my life. I enjoyed playing with them when they were little.  They were so cute that sometimes when they came to me really angry about something, their mannerisms, and sometimes even the words they were using, to me seemed above the vernacular of their age level and would make me smile!  Or they would say a word wrong and it would make me laugh.  But they were angry!!!!!!!  At four years old my daughter pointed out to me just how invalidating this was.  She felt I wasn’t taking her seriously and I was making light of her upset.  I was shocked!  Here I was feeling so much love for her that it brought a smile to my face but to her it was literally a slap in the face.  When I put myself in her shoes I realized how bad that would make me feel.  So from that time on, I worked hard to listen to her rather than “observe her” so I could really get what she was saying.  Was I always successful?  I don’t know, I guess we can ask her, but the point is that the invalidation was inadvertent and unintentional and definitely unrecognized.

Another one that comes up with teens sometimes is that they want to talk to their parents about their feelings for some guy or some girl or even perhaps the loss of a friend.  Adults, having been through all that and on the other side of it, tend often to make light of it.  Or if it is approaching a subject they themselves don’t feel comfortable with, try to side step it.  This leaves the teen with the feeling of “no attention given”, “I don’t matter,” or “no help”.  Some actually express feeling badly. The person they feel should be helping them the most, their parent, is the last person they can turn to!

If this happens enough, children go out of communication, hang on to their secrets and fears, and turn elsewhere for answers.

The last one I will point out is something you might hear your children and their friends do with each other.  Children like to share their wins and accomplishments.  It is joyful and it is a pleasure to get acknowledged for their successes.  But sometimes in doing this you will witness the “one up-man ship” invalidation.  Someone gives a win then the next child tells how his or her own accomplishment is better or more important.  Whether it is intentional or not is not the issue any more at that point.  The fact is the win is now invalidated and the child feels bad.  They might not even know why exactly, they just don’t feel happy any more.

What You Can Do

There are probably a million little subtle ways kids can be invalidated.  Rather than always look for it, the best way to address and handle it is to:

  1. Just always be attentive, present and listen well.
  2. Acknowledge appropriately all communication given.
  3. If there is a handling needed for the child that you don’t know how to address or don’t feel comfortable addressing, then tell them so and then find the answers together.  Or bring them to a place you trust to have the correct answers such as Mace-Kingsley Family Center or your local Church of Scientology.
  4. And when you hear children besting each other with their accomplishments feel free to step in and make sure each child is accepting and acknowledging each other’s wins and accomplishments.

To get the exact technology on this subject of invalidation, what it is and how to handle the upsets, stress and fears that can result from it, please feel free to contact Mace-Kingsley Family Center at 727-442-3922 or

You can also learn much more on-line by taking free on-line courses in Communication, or in recognizing covert or “subtle” invalidation from the Scientology Volunteer Ministers center.

34 thoughts on “The Subtle Invalidation of Children

  1. A very helpful article. The definition of invalidation alone makes one stop and think. I especially appreciate the way you described invalidation not done on purpose, like smiling when you think kids are cute rather than paying attention to what they are communicating. If you go to a place where there are parents and children, like a birthday party, parade or event, you can silently observe all kinds of invalidation (and also validation). This helps you recognize it in yourself and your children.

  2. This is a great article! As the mother of a three year old, I can sometimes be VERY guilty of this. It’s insidious to just think “Oh, they’re so funny!” and then just “correct” the word she uses or “fix” the thing she said.

    But it’s really their communication. I’m going to spread this around to my friends as I think it’s a really important thing to consider.

    Thanks so much! This gives me something I could do with my daughter today.

  3. Great article. Useful for adults as well as children. One other I would suggest is to always answer when the child says “Mom!” or “Dad!”. I have seen kids say it over and over and over with no acknowledgement and then get angry and act out. A simple, “Yes, what can I do for you?” would have kept that from happening. It validates their presence and importance.

    Keep up the great work you guys.
    Dr. Jan Becker

  4. Some very good points made there. What may seem cute to you is not so cute to the other party. When I was small, I can remember feeling introverted when I did or said something that seemed completely ordinary and all the adults started laughing. Apparently, it was cute to them. But I was confused.

  5. Thank you for this post. I frequently deal with children and this was definitely a way of looking at it that I had not looked at. It can be so easy to not properly acknowledge and think with the viewpoint of your child. Children are is such a odd position, they innately want to take so much control, do and say so much – I know that these next generations have such an impressive shot at greatness with the Scientology technology on children and communication.


  6. Very nicely said! I would love to see younger kids understand how one upmanship is destructive of friendships and good communication. This is something they will need to know in their adult lives as well!

  7. Wow! Thanks for sharing this! Made me look at some things I may be guilty of! Similar to your daughter my grandson gets SO angry if I laugh or smile when he’s “serious”. Better take a look at it and handle!

  8. Having someone trustworthy to talk to other than parents is so important at this age – we never know when, just by being “the parent,” we are going to be upsetting or when it is just going to be hard to confront telling us something. We have made sure our teen son has a relationship with one of the young ministers at our local Church or Scientology, and are working to set that up for our pre-teen daugher as well. Another thing that is key is what Scientologists refer to as “granting beingness” – understanding that someone else simply IS who and how he IS – it’s nothing for me to disagree with. With teens and pre-teens this usually comes down to just retaining my understanding that what they feel is real, and however much I myself may have moved beyond teen angst, they are the ones living it now. It hurts, and they need my support.

  9. Great article for all of us. I personally do not know any “perfect parents”. All of us, even though we love our kids, have been guilty of this at one time or another. Maybe not in a huge degree but a child is so vulnerable, we shouldn’t do it at all. I have a 3 year old and a 4 year old. Having 2 kids 14 months apart is both awesome and sometimes overwhelming for many reasons. And while I do show my love for my kids all the time, and try my best to be the best mom I can be, I DO SLIP. And of course you feel bad when you do. It is good to be reminded of this. Also even as young as my girls are, I have seen them do the one-upmanship thing on a “preschool level” and I have to stay on top of that and teach them about granting others the same respect I want them to have.

    Parenting skills are not necessarily “innate abilities”. Especially if someone didn’t have younger siblings or do alot of babysitting when they were young. Then they suddenly have kids and it’s like oh now what! It’s great to have a forum for everyone to look at and get basic info that helps us be the kind of parents we want to be. Keep up the good work Tad!

  10. This article is not only well written but extremely true. Should at least all parents, teachers and children activity heads have this at their fingertips we would have a start in changing the way children are treated and many more stable smiles. With a little better education on how to deal with children, the kids will simply follow this example. They love to be good! Well written Diane Norgard. I will be sharing this with others on many social sites. Thank you, Tina Turbin

  11. Thank you, Diane, for such a great article! I try to be aware of these things in dealing with my children too, and in stepping in when needed in how my children deal with each other. But I ALWAYS find there’s room for improvement! As my oldest daughter reaches her pre-teens, I try to really listen to her concerns and thoughts about her life and relationships, and foster open communication with her. I’ve found she’s opening up and talking about these things more with me, which is really rewarding. On the other hand, I know that sometimes I have “minimized” feelings my children have had too. For example, sometimes one of them will get so upset and cry about some object they’ve lost or about some “little” thing. From my viewpoint of course, it’s so minor, and nothing to get so upset about. And sometimes, especially if I’m in a hurry or trying to get something done, I can sort of brush it off or even seem aggravated that she’s upset. But for a child, the loss of something of theirs (and this sort of thing), CAN be a big deal! It always is so much better when I just understand and really acknowledge what’s happened and help them if I can. Thanks for reminding us of something we can do to improve our parenting!

  12. This is a great article. It is wonderful that parents have a place to get real and workable information. I got the information I needed to raise my daughter from a Mace -Kingsley seminar 20 years ago. Keep up the good work!

  13. I am so grateful to have been sent this email and to finally know why I get so made when someone doesn’t take what I have to say seriously. I will make sure to apply this information to life. Who would have thought that a smile or a laugh could make someone mad?
    I want everyone to feel special and this will help me to accomplish that goal.

  14. So true! My grandson of 20 months is being raised without stops and invalidations, just applying basic communication and understanding what he is doing (or wants to do) and who he is. It works great and he’s one of the sanest and happiest babies I’ve seen. For all those with little munchkins, try it out if you haven’t, and boy will it make a difference!

  15. I don’t deal with children alot, but I see this type of invalidation happening to them all the time…so this is valuable data to impart to others.

    Funny enough, though…this applies with a work group too. Sales reps are often trying to best each other, and the Sales Manager needs to be mindful of this data in order to acknowledge all of his ‘children’ properly!

    Thanks for this excellent data!

  16. Having been raised by parents who were completely in the dark on parenting, I really understand this concept. With my kids, I see how important it is to not invalidate their accomplishments and wins in life, otherwise, it will create an atmosphere thick with remorse and upset. My kids don’t keep anything from me as a result, as it’s safe to communicate what goes on in their lives. Upsets don’t get overlooked or let go.

  17. Great article! I remember what it was like as a kid to have this happen – very upsetting. I try to be good about this, but you have given me a couple ideas to improve on with Gaby. Thanks!

  18. I just read the page and especially the part on ‘subtle invalidation’ and it’s actually true: we do often invalidate children by not really understanding how THEY feel. Good advice!

  19. This is great! It really makes one aware of ways you can invalidate another without meaning to and paying attention to not doing this in future! Please continue to write these articles, they are very helpful!

    1. Very nice article! As a father of two boys under the age of 4 I can really use this data. Thanks for making it broadly available!

  20. Children are so important to this society. I’m glad there are people out there who are working to make their lives easier.

  21. Excellent article, thank you!
    When I was a teen, there was an incident where I had gotten extremely angry at my family, all of whom just heartily laughed in my face. I recall clearly my feeling of inval at not being taken seriously. So this is one area where I’ve always tried to be ‘serious’ when my son has an upset. I’ve discovered other areas though where I realised I was inadvertently invalidating his beingness, such as overriding his decisions. I am still learning about how to show him a given decision is not survival without thereby invalidating his self determinism! Being a parent is for sure a lifetime of learning :))


  22. I am so glad to see that you put this in. I have been trying to catch up with all your postings.
    In my house, my daughters and I sit and talk about our wins for the day, kind of like when we went to Delphi and told our successes at the end of the day. This way, both my girls have a chance to tell their wins and are properly heard and acknowledged for them.
    As well, no matter how much my husband and I find my two year old son’s angry faces adorable and want to smile at him, we try to acknowledge how he is feeling so that he isn’t invalidated.
    Thanks for sharing these things with us. There are even some pointers I have been taking… 🙂

  23. Excellent article and information here. I found a few years back even though I am not a follower of Scientology that the book Dianetics had some decent parenting tips and advice. One of which made me understand my oldest son way better than I had before. I had been looking at his behavior all wrong, once I realized what I was doing, mainly overreacting, I changed my behavior. For as much grief as Scientology gets, some of it in basic ideas, makes fairly good sense and is kind of apparent.

    My site: Side Effects of Creatine

  24. Love this article-it really applies not just to children but to adults as well. So glad to have articles like this to refer to and apply to make life happier for my kids and grandkids!! 🙂

  25. What used to kill me when I was little was a cousin who would take the things I said and repeat them to other grown-ups to show them how cute I was being. I felt like a toy for God’s sakes.

    It’s easy to forget how earnest and sincere children usually are and how much they want to be taken seriously.

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