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How to Give Advice Your Children Will Listen to and Follow

Carefully consider what you say and how you say it.

As parents, you will advise your children throughout their lives, and you will likely feel that certain advice is especially critical for your children to hear. But how can you ensure that your child will listen to your messages? What follows is context for understanding some of the factors that can affect your children's receptivity to guidance, as well as some suggestions about ways you can communicate to promote their listening.
One quality that constitutes good counsel is presenting your children with possible actions they might implement that fit their character or personality. Most of us have had the opportunity to witness peers or colleagues handle situations in ways we admire but that feel foreign to us. When you present solutions to your children, consider the temperamental or maturational differences between you and them that might make your suggestions difficult to enact. While you want to stretch your children's capacity to try different problem-solving solutions, it’s important that the solutions you offer aren’t ones they will be unlikely to use.
You may also think there is one optimal way your children should respond in a given situation, especially if you believe that their responding any differently would encourage someone to mistreat them. Although you may be right, remember that you are in this for the long haul. You are not just trying to give the best advice in the moment, but cultivating in your children the necessary skills to make good decisions down the road when you might not be around to influence their actions. To encourage reasonable and healthy risk-taking, it is important to communicate that their minor missteps are not tragedies. Help them know that your goal for them is autonomous, thoughtful problem-solving that they reflect upon and revise accordingly.
How advice is delivered often determines the likelihood that it will be used. Because most of us don't want to hear what we're doing wrong, the manner in which our flaws are pointed out to us is critical. For many, hearing implications that there was no possibility of a positive outcome due to their actions leaves them feeling ashamed or put down. Even great advice will likely be ignored if it is delivered with overtones of shaming, contempt, or derision.
Some people are more sensitive than others to feedback when the delivery is perceived to be harsh. Think whether, in offering your children advice, you are intimating something fixed about their character that will shift their focus from the corrective action you want them to take and make them focus instead on what a disappointment they think they are to you. You don't want your child's attention divided between taking and implementing your present advice and defending their past actions.
Are you a parent who communicates your judgment of others openly? If so, your children will quickly learn the criteria for your praise and criticism. They will also grow to know what you think about their actions. It will not matter if you openly express your opinions or not. This is called vicarious learning, and parents frequently teach in this way, though often unknowingly. For example, if your children watch you dismiss or think little of people you believe are lazy, they will know, when you casually suggest that they don’t seem very goal-directed or as interested in doing well, that your words are code for “lazy” and that laziness disgusts you.
How best, then, to present your feedback? For starters, try to avoid words like “always” or “never” —they are extreme and absolute, and there are usually exceptions that make such statements untrue. As I have recommended in earlier posts, it’s helpful to begin with a soft start-up that does not place blame. Start with expressions like “You may not have realized it,” “I wonder if,” and “Do you think things would have turned out differently if…?”
Also, if you know reasons that would make your child less likely to take your advice, it’s a good idea to address those reasons from the outset. For example, if they fear you are undercutting their autonomy, then be clear that that is not your intention. This helps dispel any misperceptions about why you are offering your guidance.
If you would like your children to consider other options than the ones they seem inclined to pursue, consider gentle reflecting questions like these: “What's your goal?” “What are you hoping will happen?” “Is there something that you're hoping for in the other person’s response?” “Do you think they will be receptive?” “Have you thought of how you will feel if they're not receptive?” “Will it bother you?”
As your child gets older, you can be more explicit with them about your intentions and ask them directly about the best ways for you to offer advice. For example, “You know that my wish as a parent is to help you navigate tricky situations with more ease and success than I did. But I also realize that I may not always offer advice in ways you like. Can you give me an idea of what approach works best for you?” Any of these scripts are drafts that you can change to sound truer to your own voice. And just as I am suggesting that your children may not come up with the perfect solution for any given situation, you may not either in terms of how you offer them advice.
And remember to check in with your children later to see how things worked out. Besides asking them whether their strategy was successful, you can also ask if there is something more you could have done or said to be supportive. You, too, will get better at this with time.

psychology today

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For parents, carers and adults looking to connect with their children in a way that is meaningful

It’s well known that our early years are important for good mental health in later life, but I’ve often been asked by parents why that is.

Positive connections between caregivers and their children support a child’s biochemistry and neurobiology for a lifetime. It’s scientifically evidenced  to be fundamental in laying the foundations for long-term psychological and physical wellbeing, fostering resilience[1].

Bonding experiences give children a sense of safety and security in the world. This directly links to the development of the autonomic nervous system which affects, levels of anxiety, depressive moods, stress disorders. It also facilitates the development of our social brain which supports loving, nurturing, healthy behaviours and generally help navigate life’s difficulties[2].


When does connection occur and what is it?
A connection occurs when a person is open and available for another. Establishing social connections and bonds with people can help us feel valued and seen.

A parent is like a fantastic teacher for all age groups conveying messages through facial expressions, tone of voice, movement and touch, that contribute to enriching experiences.

But it’s not always easy to establish good emotional connections and this can leave caregivers feeling not good enough which may leave them feeling guilt and shame. Children can be defensive and there may be many reasons they’re unable to connect.

No family is the same. The beauty and strength of parents and caregivers is their journey to know their children. There is no such thing as the perfect parent and children gain from repairing disruptions in their connection.


How can I make that connection?
When things aren’t too complicated there are a few ways how:

Make time and space to actively listen. Let your child know you can hold them in mind even when you’re busy.
Touch – even resting a hand on a wrist releases the love hormone oxytocin.
Creative and imaginative play is the simplest way to engage children. They can communicate what is happening for them in a way that feels safe and non-intrusive. Some caregivers really struggle with this, but children can teach you. Child-led play starts with really noticing what your child is interested in and then going along with it. Once you get an understanding of what they enjoy it gets easier. Then follow their lead and allow them the freedom to show you as long as it’s safe.

When parents find connecting too difficult Child Psychotherapy can help
Psychotherapy is a safe, confidential and non-judgemental place where large and difficult feelings can be explored with a therapist through talking, play and multi-arts. This is how sense-making can begin with children of all ages even when it seems as though you are facing significant challenges.

If you’re interested in exploring therapy for a young person you care for then you can find more information on the UKCP website, including how to find a qualified psychotherapist.


Martino, J., Pegg, J., & Frates, E. P. (2015). The Connection Prescription: Using the Power of Social Interactions and the Deep Desire for Connectedness to Empower Health and Wellness. American Journal of Lifestyle Medicine, 11(6), 466-475. https://doi.org/10.1177/1559827615608788. PMID: 30202372; PMCID: PMC6125010.
Gerhardt, S. (2015). Why Love Matters: How affection shapes a baby's brain. 2nd Edition.
Sunderland, M. (2008). The Science of Parenting.

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6 Characteristics of a Healthy Family

To understand what is unhealthy, we first have to define what is healthy.

While each family is different, there are some common elements that can contribute to a healthy family environment.
Respecting opinions and personal needs, as well as showing respect, are all part of healthy family systems.
In isolation, one or more of these characteristics not being a part of your family is not in itself dysfunctional.
Whenever I conduct trainings or start working with clients who are beginning their journey in recovery from family trauma, I like to go over some basic characteristics of healthy families. If we do not know what is healthy, it's difficult to identify what was unhealthy.
These may sound easy to identify, but in truth, many of us are unaware of what makes a family healthy—or normal. Words like “healthy” or “unhealthy” have become so commonplace, but few of us could describe the characteristics required to use these words in relation to families. Thus, I focus on these six to give a foundational understanding to build from.

Here are six common characteristics of healthy families or social systems:

1. Respecting healthy emotional and physical boundaries: Children and other family members have privacy, and all members understand and respect that. In healthy families, parents do most of the emotional work with their children by modeling empathy, self-control, and appropriate behaviors in response to emotions or stress. The role of children is to learn.

2. Seeing each family member as an individual with an opinion: Everyone is allowed to have an opinion and all family members should respect and allow those opinions to be expressed as long as they are respectful, even if adults make the final decision. In families where there is little room for differing opinions, it is common for children to grow up into adults who do not know who they are. When you are always taught how and what to think, it is normal to not know how to do this for yourself.

3. Setting consistent, fair, and age-appropriate rules and expectations: All families have rules and it would be normal to find homes with different sets, but rules that are inconsistent or not age-appropriate create an environment of confusion and chaos. Children are still growing and learning, so a caregiver’s expectations of them should not be the same as their expectations of themselves or other adults.

4. Meeting each person’s needs appropriately: All members are concerned with the health and well-being of others, but in an age-appropriate way. Parents provide emotional care for the children; not the other way around. As best as they can, other members also seek to meet their other family members' needs.

5. All members of the family feel safe and secure: Children in a healthy family feel safe learning, growing, and making mistakes. They have a healthy understanding of mistakes and understand that they will not challenge or threaten their security or safety. Love is unconditional.

6. Expecting mistakes and forgiving them in a healthy way: The family members understand that we are all humans learning and growing. Conflict is handled in an appropriate and safe way, with adults modeling appropriate ways to manage disagreements and disputes. These families explore mistakes to understand and improve, instead of shaming people for them. Children understand that they will be punished for unacceptable behavior, but that they will also be forgiven for making mistakes, instead of having them held against them for years after.
Take a moment to think about your family history and if you remember any of the above characteristics. Often, people who experienced family-of-origin trauma will not have these experiences. This list can just give you an idea—if none of them took place in your home, that might be a sign that things were at least somewhat unhealthy.

In isolation, one or more of the above characteristics not being a part of your family of origin is not in itself dysfunctional. For example, different households might have different ideas about whether and how the children can express their opinions based on individual family dynamics, like culture, generation, and other factors. All of the above items do not have to exist together, either, for a family to be healthy.