by Naomi Aldort
Parents often ask me if there is ever a time when
our wisdom as adults is useful to give to our children in stressful
situations. Yes, obviously we have experiences and/or knowledge that our
child does not have that could prove helpful to him. Timing is the key.
Following the child's lead is the best way to know if and when our input
is appropriate. In general, children are more capable than we realize in
their ability to self-heal. A self-reliant child is unlikely to ask for
advice - when not asked we are better off not giving it.
The worst time to give advice is when a person (of
any age) is in the midst of agonizing and pouring out their heart. I
have found that most of the time children will come to their own wise
conclusions if their expression of pain is fully accepted through
listening and validation. When our wisdom is essential, they will let us
know with specific questions. About once a year, this occurs with my
children in the area of emotional distress. In the areas of learning, it
happens more often.
So why do some children ask for advice a lot more
often than others when in emotional distress?
Self-reliance and self-trust are present at birth.
Since many of us have been treated with mistrust since childhood, we
learned to not trust our own feelings. In turn, we taught our children
to not trust themselves as well. A child who has developed a consistent
pattern of needing someone else's advice when emotions are on the line,
needs a vote of confidence from others. Parents who are wanting to help
their children rediscover self-reliance and self-trust can begin by
implementing the following steps:
1. Share with the child your new insights and
promise to listen with no commentary next time. (They will love it!) Be
honest and real. You are learning.
2. When the child once again expresses the
dependency that has become a habit and asks you what to do, respond with
the question, "What do you think?" Validate with, "I am
sure you can come up with a solution," or "This is a tough
situation - take your time."
3. If the child looks too numb or confused, he may
have lost temporarily his confidence to generate his own solutions. You
can help with an ancouraging statement like "You know best",
or, "You can trust yourself". If still unresolved for a long
time, offer a few possibilities, ending with "and you may have
another better idea".
4. When resorting to giving advice, you can
utilize some important strategies: Offer a few ideas, appearing
unattached to any of them. Let the child know that she may have a better
idea and she should do only what she feels is right. Be short and
simple, avoiding lectures. Speak positively about solutions without
5. Gradually give less and less advice and more
and more votes of confidence in your child's ability and rightness.
6. When your refusal to give advice brings on
crying or a tantrum, validate the feelings with something like:
"You wanted me to come up with the solution, and you feel deserted
and helpless. I love you and I know you are capable ... I do know that
you know what to do. You may feel helpless and incapable now, but you
will find an answer." Primarily - listen. The crying will do a lot
of good toward restoring your child's self-reliance. Once crying ceases,
the quietness that follows can often help your child realize internal
7. In a happy neutral time, talk with your child
about how she likes to be responded to when upset, and get clear on any
new rules she may want to establish. Do this a few times between
occurrences of upset but not while things are stirring.
These rules cannot be followed rigidly. We need to
be compassionate and responsive. We need not withhold support when our
child seems unready to come up with her own solution. As we offer her
more opportunities for self-reliance, we need to observe and respond to
her cues of readiness as well. We cannot force a child to become
emotionally self-reliant. Sometimes it is compassionate to free the
child from the dependency on our advice; other times it is compassionate
to yield to their dependency on our advice.
Once you have succeeded in helping your child
break the habit of dependency - and recovered from your habit of jumping
to his rescue with advice - become a curious and respectful listener.
Not only your child's emotional well being and behavior improve - so
will yours. Remember, emotions are never wrong; all feelings are
undeniable, real and right. Circumstances and actions may need to
change, but what one is feeling deserves to be heard and acknowledged.
Reprinted and revised with permission from The
Nurturing Parent magazine.
See also "Helping
Children Resolve Emotional Hurts"