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Parenting a Child with BPD: Validation Techniques

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Validation techniquesWhen your child has Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD), the difficulties inherent in parenting are ten-fold. You will face challenges that may feel insurmountable at times as the increased stress and dysfunction in your household take a toll on your ability to maintain the peace.

The kind of chaos that can result from having a child who may be angry, depressed, exhibiting compulsive behavior, or who has a substance abuse problem can wear you and other family members down and leave you feeling that you have little control over the situation.

In conjunction with appropriate Borderline Personality Disorder treatment for your child, there are communication techniques that you can employ with your child with BPD that can make a difference and help restore order in your home. One such technique that will complement the therapeutic process is learning to validate your child.

Validation Techniques

Adolescents and young adults with Borderline Personality Disorder are prone to emotional dysregulation. They often feel that no one understands or even likes them, and as these feelings become unbearable they act out accordingly. Assuaging these feelings can make a huge difference in reducing the distress they feel, and in helping them to better manage their BPD symptoms.

Alec Miller, Psy.D., offered the following validation techniques for parents with an adolescent suffering from BPD during a phone lecture offered by the National Education Alliance for Borderline Personality Disorder (NEABPD). Miller emphasized that validation is a crucial tool for both parents and therapists to understand.

  • Validating your child can and should take many forms but, first and foremost, listen to them with your full attention. Make eye contact and really listen to their grievances. Repeat back to them how they feel and refrain from dismissive remarks such as “You shouldn’t feel that way, you know you’re smart, so just move on and get over it.” You want your child to know that their feelings are valid regardless of whether they “should” or “shouldn’t” feel as they do about what you may view as a relatively minor incident.
  • Engage with warmth. It’s likely that your relationship with your BPD child may have become quite strained as a result of ongoing unresolved conflict. Repairing wounds begins with adopting a warm and interested tone with them, including your body language.
  • Communicate your own feelings and vulnerabilities and be human! You don’t always have to conform to rigid roles of parent and child power dynamics. You can just be you around your child sometimes, thus fostering a relationship that connects you on a different level.
  • Encouragement or cheerleading can be a way of demonstrating that you believe in your child’s ability to overcome obstacles and achieve goals. Praise them for what they do well and encourage positive behaviors through reinforcement. 
  • Articulate their feelings for them when they may have difficulty expressing themselves. “You feel angry because I let your sister go to the party and you feel you are old enough to go, too. I understand that would make you upset. Do you feel hurt by that?”  If your child feels understood, they feel validated and may be able to move on from temporary emotional distress knowing that their feelings are noted and accepted.

It’s easy to see that what kids with BPD need in terms of validation are things we all need from time to time. In time, you will see that giving your child support through validation can reduce some of the pain they associate with feeling misunderstood or worthless.

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