Parents love to give advice – especially dads. We feel it is our duty to prepare our children for the big world, help them learn from their mistakes and ours, show them some tricks and shortcuts and tried and true life-lessons that will give them a leg up on the future. We help them empathize with another child. We walk them through how to talk to a teacher. We demonstrate a better way to resolve a conflict.
Its good stuff – solid lessons and if they actually did follow your advice, things would be so much easier for them. So why don’t they? Why do they say they understand and then continue to do behave as if you hadn’t said anything at all?
Perhaps because children don’t like to be talked to. At least not the way grown-ups talk to them. Perhaps it is like that Far Side cartoon where the dog hears the master say blah blah blah blah Rover blah blah blah. Regardless of the reason, the evidence seems clear that it just doesn’t do the job. With a few exceptions, generally, kids don’t listen to our sage advice. Or at least they don’t follow it.
So what are we supposed to do? Not say anything? Maybe.
What if our children aren’t wanting you to solve anything. What if they would actually like to figure it out on their own and they just want to say it out loud? What if the issue isn’t one of strategy but of feelings? If that’s the case then your ideas and advice are just pulling them out of what they really need – which is to feel the feelings that are coming to the surface.
It’s hard to determine exactly what is going on for a child – even when you think you know them so well. But if you’ve experienced the dynamic of offering advice and it not being followed – then consider the alternative approach. Try saying nothing.
Now if you have read any of my articles, you know that I often suggest storytelling as a solution. I do believe that storytelling is the language of children (and everyone really) and if you really want to bring a concept home, I always encourage storytelling over lecturing. But sometimes saying nothing is the better move.
This does not mean ignoring them – it just means being quiet. Instead of asking questions or even reflecting back what they said, just listen deeply, try to get in touch with what feeling they might be feeling and if you need to make noise, then offer an occasional “mmmm” or “ohhh”
Then … when they have nothing else to say or they are so used to you giving advice that they ask you “What should I do?” Then go ahead and speak but just enough to keep them talking.
“I’m not sure – what do you think?”
Or “How would you like this to go?”
Or “Tricky – what ideas have you come up with so far?”
Now – if they are used to you figuring stuff out and delivering sensible strategies, they might be confused by this new response. But I think it is worth a try to see what happens. Your child may suddenly come up with a solution that sharply resembles the one you were about to suggest. And since it was their idea, created out of their own need to find a solution, the odds are much greater that they will follow it.
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