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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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How to stay connected with a teenager

Maintaining positive connections with your teen can be difficult as they begin to find independence.

This can be a challenging time for parents and teens to stay connected. Adolescents can react with a heightened sense of emotion and be more impulsive with their decisions.

I often hear parents during this period ask why a child they’d previously felt so close to is now so distant, so the question here is why?  

Here are some reasons why this may is happening:

Scientists have established there are several key changes in brain development during adolescence. As braincells and brain pathways connect more rapidly they perform better; each area of growth and behaviour change can really challenge the teen/parent relationship. This biological change is necessary as it supports coordinated thought, actions, and behaviours for a teenager’s transition to adulthood.

Teens become more outward looking as they explore their identity, focused on establishing connections with others away from their carers. As they develop new interests and become more influenced by people their age, they can begin to copy those they admire. At this stage teens can also misread facial expressions or cues, which is why they’re so quick to argue. The more logical area of their brain is still being built.


How to stay connected in a positive way
Hold in mind change is fast for teenagers in all areas: physically, socially, and psychologically. Coping with fears about relationships, fitting in, self-worth, hoping for acceptance – these can all heighten anxiety. Being emotionally available and empathic even when you are being challenging is key so press pause and acknowledge how difficult this process is. It will allow you to be open and be compassionate with your teen and yourself.
Remember social connection is vital for a child’s wellbeing. A good laugh with friends can introduce all the feel-good chemicals that help low mood or depression.
Avoid stereotyping adolescents and being hyper-critical. Enjoy their company as a new and exciting social connection.
Don’t underestimate how much they value their friends. It’s safer to be curious and non-judgemental within reason. Teens are full of interesting new topics and fashions. If they’re interested in a music artist, get to know the sounds rather than dismissing it. You may gain a shared interest.
Expressing how you feel or showing how you manage under stress can help a teen talk about their large and difficult feelings.
If they’re shouting and being unreasonable, try not to escalate the situation by joining in. They’re probably too angry or hurt to hear. Communicate later when things are calm.

What to look out for unhealthy connections and choices
When facing identity insecurity, teens may follow a group who they think is exciting or offers a sense of belonging. Look out for signs of risk-taking or dangerous behaviour which can be exciting initially, but develop into more serious difficulties:

going under the radar, truanting, dropping out from college or university
self -harm
weight loss, slurred speech, unexplained bruises and cuts, scalds, burns
erratic behaviour, becoming withdrawn, abusive and violent.

When connection is too difficult, psychotherapy can help
Sometimes communication has broken down and it’s important to open the channels again. This can be possible in a safe, non-judgemental space where even the most challenging issues can be thought about. Some teens find talking much too challenging. Exploring their feelings through the safety of imagery and the arts is a useful alternative to talking. Getting help early on can safeguard against issues affecting long-term mental health.

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Does Having a Baby Actually Make Parents Happy?

The first year tends to be great. The fifth, not so much.

For many couples, having a baby is one of their greatest wishes in life. But does having a baby really make parents happier? And if yes, how long does this baby bliss last? A new study published in the journal Emotion focused on answering these questions (Asselmann & Specht, 2023).
A New Study on How Parents Feel After Having a Baby
In the study, German scientists Eva Asselmann and Jule Specht analyzed data from more than 5,000 first-time parents from the German Socio-Economic Panel, a large-scale cohort study that started in 1984. All parents included in the study had experienced the birth of their first child between 2007 and 2019. The parents were interviewed yearly and asked about a number of different things. These included life satisfaction (“How satisfied are you currently with your life as a whole?”), as well as happiness, sadness, anxiety, and anger in the four weeks before the interview. These data were analyzed from five years before the couple became parents to five years after they became parents.
A Surprising Result
The scientists found out that having a baby changes psychological well-being in several ways.
The most pronounced effect was a strong increase in life satisfaction and happiness in the first year of parenthood – so baby bliss is indeed real! However, life satisfaction and happiness gradually bounced back in the years following the baby’s birth. Altogether, couples showed similar levels of life satisfaction and happiness five years after becoming parents compared to five years before becoming parents.
Regarding negative emotions, the strongest effect was found for anger. Anger decreases in the five years before a couple becomes parents and reaches its lowest point during the first year of parenthood. After that, it increases, and five years after the baby was born, anger was even larger than five years before the baby was born.
The authors of the study suggested that these higher anger levels reflect a reaction due to the stressful aspects of being a parent, such as sleep deprivation or time conflicts between family and work. For sadness and anxiety, the effects were only small. Sadness showed similar effects to anger but did not reach higher levels five years after the baby was born compared to five years before the baby was born, and anxiety gradually increased the five years before the baby was born, which may reflect anticipation effects.
An analysis of gender effects revealed that mothers experienced a more substantial increase in happiness and life satisfaction than fathers but also experienced stronger anger effects. The study's authors suggested that biological factors or gender role expectations may explain this effec.
Take-Away: Baby Bliss Lasts for a Short Time
Taken together, the results of the study clearly show that baby bliss exists. In the first year of a baby’s life, the parents are happier and more satisfied with their life than before. However, this effect only lasts shortly and when the child is five years old, both happiness and life satisfaction of his or her parents had bounced back to the level they were at five years before the child was born.
Moreover, anger levels rise, reflecting the stressful aspects of parenthood. This shows that having a baby has a lot of positive short-term effects on psychological well-being, but for high long-term life satisfaction, it is essential to find strategies to cope with the stressful aspects of having a child.

psychology today

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Positive Parenting, Brain Development, and Teen Alcohol Use

Parents’ closeness in teen years enhances resiliency and reduces alcohol abuse.

Not only does positive parenting make for a happier family life, but it also enhances children’s cognitive, physical, social, and emotional development going forward. A recently published study shows that this remains true through the teen years, and that it's particularly important for kids at risk of substance abuse.
Adolescence is a time of rapid and critically important brain development, a time during which positive parenting leads to better self-regulation, cognitive processing, decision-making, and judgement. The developing brain can be nurtured by positive parenting, and it can also be damaged by drug or alcohol abuse, very much including binge drinking.
Research Findings Support Parental Closeness During Adolescence
In a recently published study, Gayathri Pandey and colleagues investigated whether parents’ closeness to their children aged 12 to 17 had an impact on the teens’ binge drinking behavior. They found that young people at risk of alcohol abuse were less likely to be binge drinkers, and more likely to show signs of healthy brain development, if they felt close to their parents through the teen years.
There were some differences by sex (e.g., closeness to mothers was more strongly related to avoidance of binge drinking; closeness to fathers showed a bigger impact on neurocognitive factors), but in general both parents’ closeness to their adolescent child made a difference in the likelihood of binge drinking and healthy brain development.
Pandey and colleagues concluded that, “Positive parenting and parent–child closeness promote children's efficient executive functions and self-regulation, which in turn reduce risky drinking and other externalizing behaviors.”
How to Practice Positive Parenting in the Teen Years
1-Take good care of yourself. It can be very challenging to be the parent of a teenager. In order to maintain a patient, loving relationship with your child, do your best to get good nutrition, enough sleep and exercise, and time for yourself.
 2-Be positive. The teen years are filled with anxieties, insecurities, and self-doubts, as well as a heightened alertness to possible criticism. No matter how challenging it might be, look for ways to show your approval every day, and be careful to avoid critical judgement.
3-Show up. As much as possible, be there for your teenager. Quality time is important, but so is the amount of time you’re present and available.
4-Listen. Your teenager may not always want to talk to you, but when they do, listen with an open heart, without criticism or judgement. Do your best to avoid lecturing or pontificating. Just listen, with empathy and (as much as possible) approval.
5-Be calm and confident. It’s normal and healthy for you and your teen to see things differently and to argue about that. No matter how you feel at the time, it’s good for their development if they contest your attitudes, beliefs, and values. That’s the best way for them to hear why you think the way you do. If you can be calm and confident about your position, you’ll increase the likelihood they’ll see things your way.
6-Respect your child’s autonomy. Treat your teenager as the young adult they are in the process of becoming. Give them as much respect and independence as they can safely handle. Let them learn from making small mistakes now, as a way to prevent larger mistakes later.
7-Support your child’s solution-finding. Even if your child asks for advice, if they come to you with a problem, be empathetic and start with questions that help them define their own solutions. “What do you think you should do?” is always a good start. Followed by, “What do you think would happen if you did that?” After that kind of conversation, if your child still wants you to weigh in, or if they haven’t come to a good solution, you might say, “If I were you, I think I’d probably…”
8-Set expectations, rules, and consequences collaboratively. Discuss with your child what you need from them, and what they need from you, to keep your home running smoothly. Make as few rules as possible, and make sure they’re clear and understood. Get your child involved in deciding on consequences for violations. Rather than removing privileges like screens, discuss additional chores as possible consequences.
9-Be a good role model. You may not realize how closely your child is watching what you do, how you relate to others, how reliable and trustworthy you are, whether or not your actions match your admonitions to them. They learn so much more from what you do than from what you say.
10-Stay connected. Keep your focus on your connection with your child, not on the mistakes they make, or the bad judgement they show, or the disrespect they show for you and others. What matters most in the long run is their feeling that you love and support them, that you believe in them, not whether or not they fail a grade, drink too much at a party, or stay out past their curfew.
There are many good reasons to practice positive parenting with your teenager. These new research findings show that supporting their healthy brain development and reducing the likelihood of substance abuse are two more.

psychology today