The Gift of Unsolicited Advice

Uncategorized May 27, 2020

We parents receive more than just presents at Christmas. Many of us are also generously showered by the wisdom and judgements of our nearest and dearest. Those parents with newborns are especially lucky in the variety and quantity of advice on offer.

At my last 4T Drop In session before Christmas, we discussed the receiving of unsolicited advice. Interestingly, it isn't always the advice itself which drives our emotional responses. It is how it is delivered.

For example, as a couple, if one of you tells the other what to do (e.g. how to do the washing up, or how to wash the baby) then no matter how accurate the information, the receiver unconsciously thinks "you're not the boss of me" and then wants to do the complete opposite, just to prove that they can.

The reason for this is because we all move through life slipping in and out of 3 'egostates':

  • Parent mode,
  • Adult mode,
  • Child mode.

When couples are getting on with each other, they have Adult-Adult interactions. When one tells the other what to do, they switch into a Parent-Child interaction. Being pushed into Child mode is disempowering and unpleasant so we often rebel.

So, if you are the advice-giver, stop talking! By continuing, you'll only make it less likely that your advice will be followed. If you want someone to do what you say, you need to get their consent first. Better yet, wait until they fail! They'll then be more motivated to seek out a solution and (unless you've given them a reason to prove you wrong) they'll either ask you, or watch what you do and then copy it.

If someone is forcing advice on you, notice that it's happening so that you can try to keep your emotions in check. Then either make an excuse to extract yourself from the situation, or use one or more of the strategies below:

The Worried Advice Giver:

Use active listening techniques (eye contact, nod, repeat their words, etc.) with a care giver obsessing over your wellbeing. Let them presume that 'message received' is 'message followed'.

The Advice Giver Desperate to Validate Their Own Experiences:

If you are feeling generous, let them talk. Talking usually helps them process difficult experiences. More importantly though, make sure to ask them (in a nice way) 'why?' for any advice they need you follow. This will allow you to make an informed decision about whether their advice is relevant to your family's situation.

The Offerer of Out-Dated Advice:

Knowledge is your friend here. If you know more than they do, it's a lot easier to ignore their advice. If the conversation is turning hostile, don't bother trying to change their mind with your extensive knowledge of evidence-based parenting research. You'll only get frustrated when they don't listen. Instead, play Advice Bingo. It will depersonalise the frustration because what they're saying is such a cliche, you've already got it written down on your bingo board! FULL HOUSE!


What's the most painful advice you've received so far this year? Feel free to share below or head over to our Facebook group to let off some steam.


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