Using Validation to Help Regulate Emotions

This post by Sara Caitlyn Deal was originally posted on Southeast Psych’s blog

Head to Head

Have you ever said something mean when you were angry that you later regretted? Or sent an email when you were really upset that later you wished was never sent? We have all done these things but communicating when overwhelmed with emotion does not usually work well. Validation, the recognition and acceptance of another person’s internal experience as being valid, can help emotionally sensitive people manage their emotions effectively. So, why is validation important?


Communicates acceptance- it is human nature to want to belong, being accepted and acknowledging the value of yourself and others is very calming

Helps a person know when they are on the right track- feedback from others that your thoughts and feelings are normal and make sense lets you know you are understood

Helps regulate emotions- knowing that you are understood reduces feelings of being left out or not fitting in. Validation helps to soothe people that are emotionally upset.

Builds an identity- Validation is a reflection of your values, beliefs, and patterns and helps others better understand your personality.

Builds relationships- Feelings of connection are expressed when someone is validated which helps to build and strengthen relationships.

Increases understanding and forms effective communication styles- Everyone sees, thinks, and hears things differently; two people can look at the same picture and interpret it in completely opposite ways. Validation is a way of understanding others viewpoints.

Shows others they are important- communicates to others that they are important and you care about their thoughts, feelings, and actions.

Validation is a simple concept to understand, but can be difficult to apply in practice. However, if you care about someone who is emotionally sensitive, validation is one of the most important and effective skills you can learn. Similar, if you are an emotionally unstable person, learning to validate yourself will help you manage your own emotions. For more information on validation and how to use validation check out the DBT website or blog.

Image: Southeast Psych

The Science of Love

One last video take on the biology, chemistry, and neurology behind love. This one is by the creative folks over at AsapScience, who also produced the clever “Brain Tricks” video.

We promise to move on tomorrow, after Valentine’s Day. Until then, share this with a loved one.

Addressing Sensory Needs in the Classroom

SensesThe following guest post is by Dr. Penny Cuninggim, Founder and Associate Director at New England Adolescent Research Institute (NEARI) and Director of the Brain-based Learning and Resource Center. You can sign up for NEARI’s “Smoothies for the Brain” Newsletter here

Imagine your child in a world where something as basic and reliable as the sound of the school bell or another person’s touch is perceived as something foreign or threatening. Imagine that when others climb and happily slip down the slide, your child cringes, feeling dizzy at the top of the ladder, and has to back down the rungs in shame. Or imagine that when other children are eagerly examining a dead frog your child is crumpling to the floor woozy from the smell. If this describes your child, then learning is not a fresh and rewarding experience. Instead, it is fraught with landmines of all kinds.

If one’s senses aren’t working properly, learning is no fun, and school is no longer a safe and secure place to be. 


Many students with behavioral and learning problems in school are unable to focus because of sounds, smells, sights, tastes, or tactile sensations that take away their attention and increase negative emotions. In addition to the traditional five senses, a student might also have trouble sensing where his or her head and body are in space (the vestibular sense), or where and how various joints and muscles of the body are operating (the joint/muscle sense). These seven “senses” need to be working together in an integrated way in order for students to learn easily.

When these senses are not working together, one or more of the following behaviors are clues that a teacher might be able to observe:

  • Hypersensitivity to noises, touch or lights
  • Distractibility, hyperactivity, or irritability
  • Aggression, excessive talking, damage school supplies
  • Spaciness, withdrawal, anxiety
  • Poor speech development, learning disabilities, social problems
  • The inability to calm down, poor muscle tone, poor coordination

These dysfunctional behaviors are the result of a student’s inability to modulate, discriminate and organize sensations to adapt to classroom demands. In effect, these children cannot integrate incoming sensory information to complete learning tasks successfully. One student might be distracted from his math work by noises on the playground outside the classroom window, the teacher’s perfume, or the clock ticking at the front of the room. Another student might get stuck on a written assignment because of the intermittent giggling between two girls seated behind him or the collar of his new shirt scratching his neck. And still another student might be unable to either answer a question the teacher asks because she is uncomfortable standing to recite or role-play an appropriate social interaction with another student.

For most students, sensory issues can be accommodated by teachers as part of a classroom learning process. In a few cases, students may also benefit from additional work with an occupational therapist. 


The goal of using special sensory supports in the classroom is to a relaxed alert state in the student. Teachers and parents can use many teaching strategies and sensory tools to help children compensate for their sensory dysfunction.

Examples of strategies include:

  • Reducing outdoor noises
  • Having fewer bright visual materials posted on the walls
  • Providing order for a messy art activity
  • Refraining from talking in a high pitched tone or wearing perfume or bright, floral clothing

Some tools include:

  • Camp cushions to sit on
  • Rubber balls and other fidget tools to fiddle with while learning
  • Pressure blankets to wrap around itchy limbs
  • Whisper phones to help students hear their own voice

These teaching techniques and tools may feel like luxuries in a high stakes testing environment. Nothing could be further from the truth. For these students, time on learning is critically enhanced through the use of specific sensory techniques that address their individual issues. It is a win-win strategy.

Photo Credit: TheNickster via Compfight cc

Your Brain on Improv

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The below TEDx Talk by surgeon, researcher, and musician Charles Limb, unpacks some of his emerging hypotheses about the brain during improv, and how those might translate into understanding creativity. Or at least one small slice of it.

If he is correct, there are probably a broad range of implications for education. How might improv be used in the classroom to help students construct meaning, brainstorm, and build communication skills? What might educators do to help students develop skills at improv and can those skills help students as adults?

You can view the original on the TED Talks website.

Want to know more about the brain on improv?


Neurology of Gaming, Infographic

As with most things, “gaming” (or being engaged in video games) has both positives and negatives when it comes to developing minds. Too much gaming, and the positive effects are overshadowed by the negative.

Yet, the right balance can add another avenue for pursuing educational goals and achievement. As a result, more and more programs are using gaming to reach and teach students in ways they never could before. Therapy programs, schools, and even research scientists have all benefitted from the strategic use of games to increase successes.

Below is an infographic from Online Universities looking at the brain on games. What do you think? How have you used games in your work with students? What might we need to be cautious of in incorporating gaming in our learning environments? Share your thoughts and any resources you find valuable in the comments.


Image: Online University

Summer Blog Series Post #5: The Role of Spatial Ordering in Understanding Math Symbols

The results of our recent poll are in!  You, our readers, expressed a strong interest in hearing about learning challenges related to math … so in response, this week’s blog is about the spatial ordering demands involved in understanding math symbols. Thank you to everyone who participated in our poll.  We love the feedback.

In developing an understanding of mathematical concepts, students must engage their nonverbal thinking skills. Nonverbal thinking involves the use of spatial and visual processes to learn or think about a problem or concept.

One mathematical concept that involves nonverbal thinking is the use of symbols, such as numbers. The number 6, for example, is a symbol that represents a quantity. Another common math symbol is “=”, often referred to as an “equals sign,” that represents the concept that quantities on each side of the symbol are the same, or equal (e.g., 3+3 is the same as 6).  Students use and manipulate symbols when doing operations ranging from basic addition to algebraic equations.

Understanding and using math symbols taps into a student’s higher order cognition and spatial ordering abilities.  In this post, we’re going to focus on the role of spatial ordering

Neurodevelopmental factors:

Nonverbal thinking involves visual or spatial representations of math processes and relationships. Students must be able to interpret visual and spatial information (as when looking at a graph or geometric shape), and to form and understand visual and spatial concepts (as when interpreting information from a graph or describing attributes of shapes).

Some concepts lend themselves to “visualization,” creating a mental image to represent a mathematical relationship. The concept of proportion is a good example. A student may have a difficult time interpreting proportion through words and verbal explanation, but being able to visualize the relationship (e.g., the number of boys to girls in the class, the ratio of eaten slices in a pizza) may greatly enhance his/her understanding of proportion as a concept.

Here are some possible signs that a student is succeeding with the spatial ordering demands of math:

The student …

  • understands mathematical symbols and can visualize patterns, math concepts, and the parts of a problem in his/her head
  • uses visual analogies successfully (e.g., determines how two symbols relate and applies that understanding to link other symbols)
  • quickly learns new science and math concepts (e.g., place value, perimeter, equations, resistance in a wire)

Here are some possible signs that a student is struggling with the spatial ordering demands of math:

The student …

  • has trouble associating math symbols with the concepts they represent
  • is unable to recognize the systematic organization of charts, diagrams, tables, or maps
  • is slow to master the alphabet and numbers because of difficulty recognizing symbols
  • has trouble forming concepts and solving problems without substantial use of language

Strategies to help students struggling with understanding and using mathematical symbols:

  • Integrate hands-on activities and verbal explanations into the learning of spatially based concepts. For example, have students use pattern blocks to make geometric shapes, then discuss and write down the characteristics of the shapes, such as number of sides, types of angles, etc.
  • Use examples of familiar situations, or analogies, to talk and think about math concepts. This helps students link the concepts to a visual image. For example, the concept of ratio may be illustrated by asking students to imagine two brothers sharing a pizza, and the amount of pizza left over after the big brother takes his portion.
  • Guide students in visualizing patterns. For example, talk students through ‘seeing’ a geometric shape in their minds, “picturing” a math process taking place, such as 1/3 of a pizza being taken away, and 2/3 of the pizza remaining, etc.

We’d love to hear what strategies or activities you’ve used to help promote understanding of math symbols in your classroom.  Leave a comment below with your ideas!

Related links:

Learn more about our summer series

  1. More information and strategies on understanding math concepts
  2. Related research on spatial ordering (check out the section on Higher Spatial Thinking)
  3. All Kinds of Minds’ “Thinking Mathematically” podcast
  4. Mathematics section of the All Kinds of Minds Parent Toolkit
  5. Interactive spatial ordering activity