Parents often ask me if there is a time when it’s good for parents to give their children advice in a difficult situation.
Parents often ask me if there is a time when it’s good for parents to give their children advice in a difficult situation. Yes, sure, unlike our children we have the knowledge and experience that could help them, but the important thing is good timing. To figure out when it’s good to intervene, follow your child’s lead. Generally speaking, children can recover more easily than we think. An independent child probably won’t ask for advice – if we’re not asked, it’s best we don’t give it.
The worst time to give advice is when a person (no matter his age) who is full of pain confides in us. My experiences tell me that if we hear them out, confirm their pain and show them we accept it, our children will reach wise conclusions on their own. And if our advice is important to them, they will express this by giving us specific questions. In emotionally draining stress situations, my children act this way about once a year. During different situations it happens more often.
Who do some children ask for advice more often then other children in emotional distress?
Everyone is born independent and self-confident. But because many of us experience doubts during our childhood, we learn to not trust our feelings. In the same way, we teach our children distrust. Children that develop a constant need for someone’s advice need to hear expressions of trust and confidence from others. I recommend the following to all parents who would like to help their children regain independence and self-trust:
– Tell your child about your new approach and promise him that next time you will be listening without talking (he will be excited!). Be truthful and honest. You are learning too.
– If your child expresses signs of dependency again and asks you for advice in what to do, respond with: “And what do you think?” and confirm this with “I’m sure that you’ll be able to find a solution”, or “It’s a difficult situation, think it over carefully.”
– If your child gets startled or confused by this, he probably temporarily lost his self-confidence and is not able to offer his own solutions. You can help him with encouraging words such as: “You know what to do best.” If he still doesn’t know what to do, suggest several possibilities and end it with: “(…) and maybe you have a better idea.”
– If you decide to give advice, you can use these important strategies: Offer several ideas, without revealing which of them you prefer. Let your child know, that he could have a better idea and that he should do what he feels is right. Talk clearly and simply, avoid lecturing. Talk positively about solutions and don’t judge.
Gradually, give advice less and less and express trust in the skills and decision-making capabilities of your child more and more.
If your child starts crying or gets angry if you refuse to give advice, validate his feelings with something like: “You wanted me to offer a solution and now you feel abandoned and helpless. I love you and know you are capable…I know you know what to do. You may now feel helpless and incapable but in the end, I’m sure you will find your answer.” Most of all, listen. Crying will help restoring your child’s self-assurance. As soon as the crying stops and everything becomes quiet, the child can start coming up with answers.
During a calm moment, talk to your child about how he wants you to act if he’s upset and set clear rules that he would like to establish. Do this between situations when he’s upset – never shortly after or during.
You can’t follow these rules rigidly. It’s important to be empathetic and to know how to respond sensitively. It’s not necessary to refuse to help, if the child is not ready to offer his own solution. As soon as we offer our child more opportunities to express his independency, we have to observe and respond to signs of readiness. We can’t force our child to be independent. Sometimes, empathy can mean trying to free our children from being dependent on our advice; other times, it means to yield to their dependency on our advice.
Once you succeeded, and your child stops being dependent on you – and you break your habit of rescuing him with advice – become a curious and respectful listener. His emotional state and behavior will improve and so will yours. Don’t forget that emotions are never wrong; all feelings are undeniable, real and right. Circumstances and actions may need to change, but feelings should be accepted and heard.