All that friendly advice starts the minute folks discover you’re expecting a baby. I’m more than two decades into this journey, and people still share opinions about how I should parent.
“When you’re pregnant, people feel like they can come up and give you unsolicited advice. When I was nine months pregnant, this one woman came up and she said, I have one word for you: epidural. And I was like, Oh my God, thanks. But we already picked a name.” ~Bonnie McFarlane
Although unsolicited advice is usually given with good intentions, it is often the least effective way to help. The absolute best thing we can do when people share their challenges is to listen. Listening is the secret sauce, the miracle cure, the best alternative to giving advice.
“People often find their own solutions when they have an opportunity to express their feelings in an atmosphere of acceptance, patience, tolerance, and support. Active and attentive silence may, at times, be more helpful than anything one person can say or do to help another.” ~Richard B. Joelson, Why Unsolicited Advice Can Ruin Relationships, Psychology Today
You may be wondering what this has to do with parenting.
Children are people, too. In order to be confident decision makers, kids need to know their parents are confident in their ability to work through challenges on their own.
Here is a simple 3 step response you can use to show children you believe in their ability to work through life’s challenges:
When a child comes to you expressing emotions like frustration or sadness, pause long enough to make sure they’re finished sharing. It’s amazing how much can be accomplished with silence.
Restate their words. You don’t want to sound like a parrot. Instead, validate their emotions without judgment or advice. For example, you may say: You seem angry. That must make you feel sad. I can see how that would be frustrating.
I ask my own children, “Do you want me to listen or give advice?” Usually, the response is they just want me to listen. This strategy works best with older children. With younger children, it’s better to simply ask if they need help.
This practice of attentive listening can be challenging. We’re conditioned to give advice. When it comes to our own children, we especially feel the need to fix things so they don’t struggle.
I understand this “talk less, listen more” process kind of goes against our instinct. Clearly, there are times when we must intercede and give advice. More often than not, though, the best choice is to listen and validate.
The more you refrain from giving unsolicited advice, the more likely it will be that your children will ask you for advice when they need it and will follow that advice if it is reasonable. ~ Peter Gray, Unsolicited Advice: I Hate It, You Hate It; so Do Your Kids, Psychology Today
Talk less. Listen more. It’s that simple.