I have always learned that “Lifnei Iver lo Titen Michshol”, Don’t put a stumbling block before the blind,” meant that we should not give bad advice or with an ulterior motive. But what about kids who do not like to receive any of their parents advice, no matter how good, sensible and sincere it is? Should we withhold our brilliant advice? Wouldn’t that be considered “placing a stumbling block before the blind…”?
Take these examples of sound advice:
You should do your homework right when you come home..
Don’t eat so much sugar you will get a stomachache…
You need to wear a warmer jacket than that! It is cold outside…
The advice is sound, genuine, and even kind. We are adults, we are parents, we know so much more than our kids so it is only natural that we want to dispense advice. The best part about our advice is that it is based on wisdom that we have gleaned after years of making our own mistakes.
This is all true, but children universally respond to our sage and sensible advice with eye rolling and annoyance. Why? Because giving advice to children interferes with children’s much needed autonomy. All human beings, and that includes children, generally like to figure things out for themselves. This is the major reason why children and teens have a hard time accepting advice from their parents
Kids even get snippy after they have asked us for advice and we give us our opinions. How many parents have had the conversation:
Child: Mom, what should I do? Sara is being mean to me..
Parent: Well, honey, sometimes people are mean but they don’t really mean it. You should just ignore her and let it go.
Child: You just don’t understand!
As parents we need to know that stepping in and giving our children advice, even when it is solicited, may cause children to feel stupid (“I should have thought about that myself”). They also may feel angry, (“Why are you always telling me what to do and controlling my life?”) and defiant (“Maybe I thought about that solution already!”). 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!”).
So what can we do as parents? Should we just zip our lips until our kids leave home? Should we let our kids stumble through life blindly? Not necessarily, there are ways that help kids listen to our advice without annoying them in the process:
The following key phrases allow us to give advice in a way that respects our child’s independence, and shows we understand their feelings:
“I am not sure you will agree with this….but you might want to do your homework first, get it over with and then play with your friends.”
“What do you think of this idea?……take a step outside for a minute to see what the weather is. Then decide on a jacket.”
“How would you feel about?…….eating dinner and then see if you have room for that sugary snack.”
More important, we need to show our children that we have faith in their ability to solve problems on their own. We can do that by asking them: “In this situation what do you think would work for you?”
“You seem upset by Sara, in this situation what do you think would work for you?”
Parents can and should advise their kids. We need to do it in a way that shows we respect them and lets them feel capable of handling life and all the big and little problems that come their way. In this way they can sometimes avoid stumbling about like blind people.
Adina Soclof, MS. CCC-SLP, works as a Parent Educator for Bellefaire Jewish Children’s Bureau facilitating How to Talk so Kids will Listen and Listen so Kids will Talk workshops as well as workshops based on Siblings Without Rivalry. Adina also runs parentingsimply.com.