The above is the sound of parent’s sage advice. What is the usual response to these wise words? Younger kids usually get angry and defensive, and start to put up a fight. Older kids will do the same, maybe roll their eyes and get annoyed.
Parents are usually left frustrated and confused as to why their children have such intense reactions. We throw up our hands and think, “I was just trying to be helpful! I just don’t want them to make the same mistakes I did, if they just listen to me, they won’t have to!”
To help us understand our children’s reaction we can put ourselves in their shoes. What if your spouse gave you the same (see above) advice? How would you feel? Angry, defensive, ready for a fight? You are probably nodding your head, “Yes, I would feel all that and more!”
Accepting advice is difficult for both children and adults. This is the case even if it is solicited. Stepping in and giving our children and other adults advice, even when they ask us, may cause the recipient to feel stupid (“I should have thought about that myself”). They also may feel controlled, (“Why are you always telling me what to do?”) and defiant (“Maybe I thought about that solution already! Why do you always tell me what to do!”). Advice in the form of lectures causes boredom and weariness, (“I am never going to ask for advice again- she just goes on and on!”).
It gets even more complicated when we advise our children, because it interferes with their much-needed autonomy. Part of growing up is learning to make decisions. The fact is, somewhere deep inside of us, we know what is right for ourselves. As parents we need to focus on helping our kids listen to their gut and their instincts. We need to help them hone in their intuition so that they can access their inner conscious and moral compass. Giving advice hinders that process. Children need to make their own mistakes. It is how they learn to not make mistakes.
This part of parenting, letting go and letting our kids make their own mistakes is so difficult because we are biologically programmed to protect our young from harm. Not only that, there is also this need that we have to be right. There is nothing so satisfying as being able to say or even just insinuate, “I told you so, if you would have only listened to me things would be going so well for you right now!”
So the question is, if giving advice doesn’t work, what can we do to guide and teach our kids? How do we help them trust their instincts? Finally, how can we overcome this intense need to protect our children from harm and this very human quirk of wanting to be right and let our children make their own decisions?
1. Talk about yourself:
Instead of giving advice, the best way to help our kids make good decisions is to talk about how we make decisions. In your casual conversation with your kids, talk out loud about how you put in effort to do the right thing.
“I really didn’t want to have guests this Shabbos but I figured that the Cohen’s just moved in and then need a place to eat until they get their apartment together. I have a busy week, so I am going to buy some take out and just make a few homemade things. It is a tough week but I know that it was the right thing to do.”
“I was really unsure about this new customer of mine. Something in my gut told me that he was being dishonest. I asked him a couple of questions and I think I was right. He didn’t call me back after that.”
2. Answer a question with a question:
Children may come to your for advice. But just know that they generally know what they want to do before they come to you. We need to keep in mind that giving them the advice that they ask for is usually not helpful for them (see above). Again, you want to encourage them to make the decision themselves.
Child: Should I wear the blue or green dress?
Adult: What are you leaning towards?
(You can also gently joke with your children about how when parents tell children what to do or what to wear for that matter, they usually will want to do the opposite. It is just a funny part of human nature.)
Child: Should I do my homework now?
Adult: What do you think would be a good time for you? What does your schedule look like over the next few days?
Child: Should I eat my candy now or save it for later?
Adult: What do you think?
Other questions you can ask your kids are:
What does your gut tell you to do?
What do you think the right thing is to do in this situation?
What would work best for you?
3. Give advice in a way that it can be heard:
There are times where it is really hard not to give our kids advice or ideas on how to manage their problems. At those times we can use the following phrases:
“I am not sure you will agree with this….but I was thinking that it is cold out and the blue dress is warmer than the green one.”
“What do you think of this idea?……do your homework now and then you wont have to worry about it later.”
“How would you feel about?…….about saving that candy for your Shabbos treat?
4. Soften up those “I told you so’s”:
As we mentioned above, it is a very human need to protect our children and it is hard to hold back from saying “I told you so” when your child makes a mistake that could have been avoided.
Here are some gentle ways to help your child understand they made a mistake and help them get back on track:
“ I told you, you should have put your snack in your backpack right away- then you wouldn’t have forgotten it!”
“I was thinking of you today. I know you were looking forward to having that snack. I am sure tomorrow you will put your snack in your bag right when I give it to you.”
“You missed the bus again!- now your going to have to walk to school. I told you need to wake up earlier in the morning, but you never listen…”
“ Oh no! Not again! Here’s a sweatshirt…. you will need it for your walk to school. Sometimes it helps to walk through your schedule backwards in your head to make good decisions abut how long it really takes for you to get ready in the morning.”
Giving advice is tricky. Holding back is tough for parents but it is ultimately the best for our kids. Talking about ourselves, answering a question with a question, using respectful phrases and avoiding “I told you so” all can help your child make good decisions without you.
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