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How to Give Advice to Your Kids

Effective ways to help you guide your children while respecting their real need for independence.

We want the best for our children. We have a lot of life experience. So why do they get annoyed, roll their eyes, and act resentful when we offer our sage advice?

“Why do you always tell me what to do?”

“You don’t trust me!”

“Do you think I’m stupid? Of course, I thought of that already!”

And just because you told them to do it, many kids will go out of their way to do the opposite.

What’s going on?

No one likes to be given unsolicited advice, even adults. It’s annoying to be told what to do. We like to figure things out for ourselves. It is the same for kids. Harry Truman was quoted as saying, “I have found that the best way to give advice to your children is to find out what they want and then advise them to do it.” There is a lot of truth to that!

Giving unsolicited advice interferes with their very strong need for independence. They need to separate from us – that’s a natural part of their development. We need to remain on the sidelines as much as we can. We need to allow them to make their own mistakes and figure things out for themselves, struggle with their problems. It’s healthy for them.

That’s why they bristle when we give advice; we are not allowing them their autonomy. Advice is an invitation for them to push back even more so they can show us that they know what they are doing.

But we have a responsibility to share our values and opinions with our children. And it’s painful to watch our children make mistakes that could have been avoided if we would have intervened.

Don’t despair. There are ways to share advice with our children by showing them that we respect their need to be their own people. We have to show that we know that they can be relied upon, and we trust them to solve their problems on their own. Once they know that they can rely on us to trust them to make their own decisions, they will be more receptive to us.

To get this message of respect, trust, and understanding across we can preface our advice with the following:

  1. Give them permission to disagree:

To give children permission to disagree, we can start our conversation with the following phrases: “I’m not sure if you will agree with this…” “I’m not sure you will like this idea…”

This takes the pressure off, gives them the respect that they crave and allows them to hear you.

So instead of: “You need wear a fancy dress to Grandma’s party, not those scrubby jeans that you have.”

Try this: “I’m not sure if you will agree with this, but I was thinking that you might want to wear something a little dressier than jeans to Grandma’s birthday party…”

Instead of: “You should do your homework before your soccer game. You are going to be tired when you come home and you won’t be able to do it.”

Try this: “I am not sure if you will like this idea, but maybe you could do your homework before your soccer game so you’ll be able to relax completely after the game.”

2- Ask their opinion:

Everyone loves to give their opinion, including children. We can preface our advice with the following phrases:

“What do you think of this idea?” “How would you feel about it?”

So instead of: “If you can’t find your jacket, you’re are just going to have to wear your sweatshirt and your fleece together. You better start looking around the house, calling your friends and checking the lost and found at school”

Try this: “What do you think of this idea? You could wear a sweatshirt and a fleece jacket until you find your winter coat?”

Instead of: “You need to visit Aunt Martha, she is in a nursing home and is very lonely. It would be a nice thing for you to do. You need to do more to show her that you care.”

Try this: “How would you feel about going to visit Aunt Martha at the nursing home today? Could you fit it into your plans?”

 3- Tell them what has worked for other kids:

Children are also more receptive to hearing advice if they know that other kids have tried what you have suggested.

Instead of: “Well, if you want to lose weight you need to go to the doctor and you definitely should ask him about weight watchers, come to think of it I think weight watchers is exactly what you should do…”

Try this: “I have heard that some other kids have tried this, I don’t know if it would work for you. I know that some kids looked up stuff online about eating a healthy diet. Some kids also like to talk to their doctors. Think about it and keep me posted on what you decide to do.”

4. Don’t admonish, invite discussion:

Finally, we can be nervous – and rightly so – about the real trouble our kids can get into. But most children are insulted when you suggest they would do something inappropriate and some children become more secretive and go underground. We want to avoid that at all costs. It is better if we invite discussion:

Instead of: “Don’t you dare do any of this crazy stuff that kids are doing with cough syrups – you could get killed. Stay away from kids like that. Make sure all your friends are good people ….”

Try this: “I read something about this in a newspaper article – you might want to look it up online, kids are using cough syrups to get high. Is it true what they are saying?”

Giving advice is a delicate matter. Giving advice to kids is even more so. Giving children permission to disagree, asking their opinion, telling them what other kids have done, and inviting discussion are all effective ways to help you guide your children while respecting their real need for independence.

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