The Need for Validation and the Teaching

The feeling of not being enough can be a deeply unsettling experience that many people face at some point in their lives. It can lead to a constant need for validation from others and a persistent desire to educate oneself. Working with children presents a beautiful opportunity to observe the emergence of such needs in real time. However, the responsibility of identifying and addressing these needs is less beautiful and, falls directly on the teacher. Therefore, it is useful to understand that validation is a basic human need that is essential for emotional well-being and healthy development. It involves the feeling of being seen, heard, and acknowledged by others as you believe you deserve. When we receive validation, we feel understood, accepted, and appreciated for who we are, which helps us to build confidence, self-esteem, and a sense of belonging.
In this article, we will explore (I) the human need for validation, its stages, how it develops, its parameters of normal and abnormal, and how to meet this need in healthy ways, and secondly (II), how and why teachers should address this need.

I. The Need for Validation

The need for validation is a universal human need that starts in infancy. When we are born, we are completely dependent on others for our survival, and we rely on our caregivers to meet our basic needs for food, warmth, and comfort. This is the first type of validation we need. As we grow and develop, our need for validation expands beyond physical needs to include emotional needs such as love, attention, and acceptance. Validation is particularly important during childhood and adolescence when we are developing our sense of self and trying to establish our identity. Children and teenagers who receive validation from their parents, teachers, and peers are more likely to have higher self-esteem, better emotional regulation, and stronger social connections.

Not receiving validation and subsequently not feeling enough can manifest in various ways, and almost always comes with an internal state of agitation, of ‘’not enough’’. Some individuals may experience a sense of inadequacy in their relationships, while others may struggle to find fulfillment in their careers. These feelings can also be attributed to societal pressures, unrealistic expectations, or a lack of self-confidence. As a result, many individuals seek validation from others to affirm their worth. This can take the form of seeking praise, recognition, or approval in many subtle ways. However, this need for validation usually becomes a vicious cycle, leading to a never-ending quest.

In the educational context, the agitation of not feeling enough can be a prevalent issue among students. Many students may feel that they are not smart enough, capable enough, or talented enough to succeed in their academic pursuits. This feeling can be exacerbated by the competitive nature of the classroom and the pressure to excel.

As a result, students may seek validation from their teachers, peers, and parents to confirm their academic abilities. They may constantly seek praise or recognition for their achievements, or they may compare themselves to their peers to gauge their academic performance.
Educators must remember that students’ academic achievements do not always define their worth or value.

Stages and Development of Validation

The need for validation goes through several stages as we develop. In infancy, we rely on our caregivers to provide us with consistent care and attention. Our needs are validated. As we grow older, we begin to seek validation from others outside of our immediate family, such as peers and teachers.

During adolescence, the need for validation becomes particularly strong as teenagers struggle to establish their identity and navigate the complex social dynamics of their peer group. Without validation, teenagers may feel isolated, misunderstood, and unaccepted by their peers, which can lead to feelings of low self-esteem and depression.

As we grow older, we continue to seek validation from our relationships, authority figures, and peers. We use the feedback we receive from others to develop our sense of self and our understanding of the world. Over time, we internalize this feedback and develop a concept of Self that is based on our experiences but also interactions with others.

Parameters of Normal and Abnormal Validation

The need for validation is a normal and healthy part of human development. However, when validation becomes the sole focus of a person’s life, it can become problematic. Counterintuitive to the socially displayed image, people who are overly dependent on validation from others may have a low sense of self-worth and struggle with anxiety and depression.

On the other hand, people who can validate themselves and feel secure in their self-worth are more likely to have better emotional regulation and deeply authentic social connections. It is important to strike a balance between seeking validation from others and being able to validate ourselves.

II. How and Why teachers should address student’s need for validation

As teachers, it is important to recognize and manage the needs of students for validation in educational contexts. Children have a fundamental need to feel validated, acknowledged, and appreciated for their efforts and accomplishments. This need for validation is essential to building confidence, self-esteem, a sense of belonging in the classroom, and ultimately better academic results. However, as educators, it can be challenging to balance the need for validation with the need to provide constructive feedback and promote growth and learning.

Here are some strategies that can help you manage children’s need for validation when teaching:

1. Use positive reinforcement: Positive reinforcement is a powerful tool for promoting positive behavior and encouraging students to continue to strive for success. When students feel validated for their efforts, they are more likely to continue to work hard and strive for excellence. Praising students for their achievements, no matter how small can help to build their confidence and reinforce their efforts.

How? One way is to provide verbal praise and recognition for their efforts and achievements. This could be done through simple statements such as „Great job!” or „I am impressed with your hard work.”, „This looks amazing!”, „Interesting approach!”. Another way to offer positive reinforcement is through nonverbal cues, such as a smile or a thumbs up. These cues can serve as positive feedback for a student’s behavior or effort. In addition, teachers can offer tangible rewards to students who display positive behavior or effort. These rewards could include stickers, certificates, or small prizes. It is important to note that the reward should be appropriate and proportional to the effort or behavior being recognized.

2. Provide constructive feedback: While positive reinforcement is important, it is also essential to provide constructive feedback to help students grow and learn. When providing feedback, focus on specific areas for improvement and provide actionable steps for students to work on. This can help students to feel empowered and motivated to continue to improve.

How? there are multiple ways to provide constructive feedback to students. One approach is to highlight specific areas for improvement while also acknowledging the positive aspects of a student’s work. This helps to create a balance between praise and feedback for growth. Another way to provide constructive feedback is to give actionable steps for students to work on. This could include suggesting specific resources or strategies help the student improve in a particular area. By providing clear steps, students feel empowered and motivated to continue to work on their skills. In addition, teachers can provide feedback promptly to ensure that students can make the necessary improvements before it is too late. For example, a teacher might provide feedback on a draft of an essay before the final submission to allow the student to make the necessary revisions.

3. Encourage peer feedback: Peer feedback can be a powerful tool for promoting validation and growth in the classroom. Encouraging students to give each other feedback can help to build a supportive and collaborative classroom environment. This can also help to promote self-reflection and self-evaluation, which can be essential for building confidence and self-esteem.

How? For this one is useful to get practical displaying some actual examples; therefore:

  • Peer review groups: Divide your students into small groups and ask them to review each other’s work. Encourage them to provide constructive feedback and suggestions for improvement.
  • Gallery walk: Display your students’ work around the classroom and ask them to walk around and provide feedback to their peers. This allows students to engage with each other’s work and provide feedback in a non-threatening environment.
  • Fishbowl discussions: Divide the class into two groups, with one group inside the „fishbowl” and the other group outside. The inside group discusses a topic or issue while the outside group observes and takes notes. After a set period, the groups switch roles and the outside group provides feedback on the inside group’s discussion.
  • Peer editing: Before submitting a final draft of a writing assignment, ask students to exchange drafts with a peer and provide feedback. Encourage them to focus on both positive aspects and areas for improvement.
  • Student-led conferences: Instead of traditional parent-teacher conferences, consider having students lead the conference with their parents or guardians. Students can showcase their work and discuss their strengths and areas for improvement. Encourage parents to provide feedback and ask questions, while also providing positive reinforcement for their child’s efforts.

4. Foster a growth mindset: Encouraging a growth mindset can help students to see challenges as opportunities for growth and learning, rather than as failures. By emphasizing the process of learning and growth, rather than just the outcome, students can feel validated for their efforts and motivated to continue to work hard.

How? Firstly, emphasize effort and persistence instead of focusing solely on grades or performance. Encourage students to see mistakes and setbacks as normal ingredients when learning and growing, rather than as indications of failure. Providing challenging but achievable tasks can also help to build students’ confidence and resilience, encouraging them to take risks and try new things. Encouraging self-reflection is another effective way to promote a growth mindset. Encourage students to reflect on their learning and progress, helping them to identify areas where they’ve made progress and areas where they need to improve. This will help them to take ownership of their learning. When providing feedback to students, focus on areas for growth and improvement, rather than just pointing out mistakes. Encourage them to use the feedback to set goals and work towards improvement. This feedback should be framed in a way that focuses on the learning process, emphasizing that skills and knowledge can be developed with practice and hard work.

5. Be mindful of individual differences: It is important to be mindful of individual differences in the classroom and to tailor your approach to meet the needs of each student. Some students may need more validation and positive reinforcement than others, while others may be more motivated by constructive feedback and challenges. Understanding and responding to these individual differences can help to build a supportive and inclusive classroom environment.

How? One way to be mindful of individual differences is to conduct assessments regularly. This can help you gain a better understanding of your student’s strengths and weaknesses, which can inform your teaching strategies and enable you to provide individualized support to each student. Another way to be mindful of individual differences is to create a supportive classroom environment. Encourage students to share their perspectives and experiences, and create opportunities for students to work collaboratively. Finally, the most important remains the act of fostering a culture of respect and understanding in the learning environment. This will help students celebrate diversity and learn from each other’s differences.

In conclusion, ensuring validation when teaching remains a difficult balancing act. On one hand, validation is essential for promoting positive student behavior, building confidence, and encouraging students to continue to strive. On the other hand, teachers must also be mindful of not providing false praise or overvaluing effort at the expense of actual achievement. Validation remains important because it helps students feel seen and heard. It acknowledges their hard work and effort and can help build a positive relationship between students and teachers. However, to feed up the need for validation remains tricky: on one hand because it must be genuine and based on actual qualities, on the other hand – and luckily – remains based on the teacher’s eye to identify and acknowledge those qualities.

Tailoring your validation strategies so will ensure that each student will feel seen, heard, and valued when learning.


prof. Oana Onciu

Facultatea de Psihologie și Științe ale Educației, Universitatea Alexandru Ioan Cuza, Iași (Iaşi) , România
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