Helping Your Kid Make a Change? Instead of Giving Advice, Try This Instead

I’m pretty sure most of us have had the experience of telling a friend or family member about a frustrating or difficult experience we’ve had, only to receive a lot of advice about how we should fix the problem, or what we should have done differently.

Or perhaps you’ve been the one doing the explaining and advice giving. Have you heard this exasperated groan from your child? “I knoooow! Ughhhhhh!”

When someone gives us unsolicited advice, sometimes it sends the message that they don’t think we are capable of figuring it out ourselves, which stings, and often results in defensiveness. Turns out, the reason we don’t do things differently is not always because we don’t have the information we need.

But let’s say that you see your child struggling to make a change, and you also realize that they probably know what they should be doing already. What can you do to nudge them toward change instead of giving them advice?

When your child is struggling to change their behavior, instead of lecturing them again about what to do or not do, find a time to ask them for their advice. How would they teach another kid how to do what they are struggling with? This could be anything from putting their shoes in the cubby instead of the middle of the floor, their dirty laundry in the hamper instead of the floor, their trash in the garbage can instead of the floor, to taking deep breaths when frustrated instead of flinging themselves on the floor.

You shouldn’t point out that they are struggling to do what they are giving advice on, and this works best using an example child they don’t know but is having the same problem.

  • You might say, “My friend at work has a child about your age, and they have been struggling to do _______. I wanted to give my friend some ideas. What do you suggest that their child should do?

Not only do kids love to tell others what to do, but being asked for their ideas and thoughts on how to behave or what to do is really empowering. And, the secret sauce to this technique may be in the psychology of cognitive dissonance: the mental conflict that occurs when your beliefs don’t match your actions. After we describe what we believe should be done in a situation, when we find ourselves in the same situation, to avoid cognitive dissonance we are likely to change our behavior to match our belief.

This can also work for adults!

 If you and a friend or two are working on making a change to your own behavior, consider creating a support group where you ask each other for advice on tackling the behavior change you’re all working on. In her book, How to Change, Katy Milkman gave the example of three friends who were working on setting and keeping boundaries in their full work lives. When one of them needed advice or support on whether to say no to being invited to give a talk, or join a committee, they would reach out to their group. Being in a group like this, you will likely learn tips from your friends, feel supported and motivated by each other, plus the advice givers will benefit by utilizing cognitive dissonance to align their behaviors with their beliefs.

So next time you feel like giving advice, try asking for it (for a friend) instead!

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Katherine Pears

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