One of my favorite books, RARE Leadership, talks about VCR which is the acronym for Validate, Comfort and Re-pattern. Loved ones who validate and comfort help our emotional brain quiet big feelings and return to relational joy. This crucial response is Skill 11 of the 19 relational brain skills. Children as young as two-years-old will talk to themselves using validation and comfort when they have parents and caregivers at home who use this VCR sequence. As a mother to young children with brains that are growing and changing, this topic is near to my heart!
Earlier this year I reread RARE Leadership and while reflecting on this material, I realized my sons do not walk themselves through this VCR process very well. While talking this through with Chris, I became highly motivated to better guide Matthew and Andrew so they could improve their ability to calm big emotions instead of staying stuck in their upset.
I first started with my seven-year-old son, Matthew. I explained how validation is acknowledging how big a problem feels. I said, “For example, I am REALLY mad that my brother just broke my favorite toy!” I went on, “We might then add more descriptive words about how upsetting this is for you, and how you feel sad because this toy was very special.” I could see the wheels turning while he nodded. Later, when explaining this to my five-year-old, Andrew, I described this step as simply, “Say what you see.”
The next step is to comfort. I explained to Matthew that comfort is, “looking for what we can still be thankful for, even though this upsetting thing has happened.” I then offered an example. “At least I still have a lot of other toys I can enjoy, and maybe Daddy can fix my broken toy when he returns home.”
Looking for what we can feel thankful for during an upsetting circumstance brings the problem into a better perspective, helps us better manage our emotions and activates our relational brain. (1) You see, big emotions that are not quieted or regulated tend to knock our relational brain offline. Therefore, we can use appreciation as the bridge to take us from agitation and isolation to peace and connection.
On a side note, if we first respond to distress in our children by trying to offer comfort before validation, children will feel like we do not understand just how big their feelings are, and they may feel minimized. In fact, many well-intentioned husbands or wives slip on this banana peel with a spouse, which leaves the partner feeling alone, dismissed and misunderstood. You can read more about validation and comfort here.
Back to the conversation with my sons. Matthew was unsure about this validation and comfort thing, so I needed to help him around the bend. I suggested we switch roles so he could offer validation and comfort to me after telling me “No” to something I really wanted. He liked this idea and was ready for the challenge.
I started with a scenario where I ask for ice cream before dinner. He abruptly said, “No Mommy!” I then pretended to be sad and mad about his refusal. I invited him to offer me validation and comfort. After a few rounds of practice, we then tried a scenario where he asks for something and I refuse his request. In response, he must offer himself some validation and comfort so that I could hear.
Over time with practice, I have noticed Matthew improve his ability to validate and comfort himself. At one point Matthew shared with me that he does not like the words “Validation” and “Comfort” so we now call the process VCRC which means Validate – Comfort – (get your) Relational Circuits on. At this point in time, when Matthew is upset because he does not get his way, or he is angry with his brother, I ask him to take a couple of minutes to quiet himself, practice the VCRC sequence, then come back and share with me how he validated and comforted himself. (2) This has made a HUGE difference in how long he stays upset. I have noticed a refreshing influx of peace spreading in our household.
About a month later, I was encouraged by an interaction with Matthew where he demonstrated to me validation and comfort were now a part of his thinking. Matthew likes to create short, silly stories with pictures for his books. His favorite stories often include Star Wars characters. One day Matthew shared a story where Darth Vader was upset because he could not rebuild the Death Star. In this dialogue he created, I was surprised to hear that Darth Vader was validating and comforting himself! My husband and I laughed about this for a long while, but it showed me the process was “sinking in” and expanding his emotional intelligence.
Validation and comfort are important responses we can learn to better calm ourselves. This response pattern is a meaningful gift we can share with other people. I have discovered that my most meaningful interactive prayer times with God are when I sense He validates and comforts me in my distress. This response leads to immense peace and hope. I encourage you to read another favorite book, called Joyful Journey, and learn about Immanuel Journaling which is designed to walk through the validation and comfort process with God.
Are there areas in your life or important relationships where validation and comfort would increase your peace?
- Learn more about relational circuits in previous blogs here.
- It should be noted that “going away to quiet” works after the child has enough practice and experience quieting him or herself (Skill 2) with the help of a parent. This is not a punishment rather an opportunity to calm down.