Down To Earth Dad

Advice for Dads...Don't Give Any!

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Parents know that giving unsolicited advice to children (teenagers in particular) is often a dead-end road. That's because (and listen up dads, especially!) unless your child asks for advice, they probably don't want it.

That's the advice of Mark Goulston, M.D., psychiatrist and author of Just Listen: Discover the Secret to Getting Through to Absolutely Anyone. I interviewed the former hostage trainer for police and the FBI on the Down To Earth Dad Radio Show, and he explained how to avoid being held hostage by poor communication.

"Generally speaking, your teen doesn't want your unsolicited advice or solutions--and neither does your spouse.... When you show caring by providing advice and solutions, and you're not being welcomed with opened arms, then they (your child or spouse) is not getting what they want and need. What they need is to be able to vent without you taking it personally or giving them advice they don't want," Goulston said. "One of the main things dads need to manage is to not take personally some of the anger, verbiage, and temperamental attitude that he observes in his teenager. He needs to not react personally. One of the challenges for dads is to learn to manage their own reactivity. This means managing your tone."

Communication Steps

"At the moment when things start to boil over between you and your child, say firmly, but not angrily, 'What you're saying is much too important for me to get frustrated or ticked off about, so tell me exactly what happened.' A lot of times people vent because they feel unimportant. Also, if they are given the chance to experience the details of the event, their emotions about the event will diminish somewhat. You might say, 'Tell me more about that,' and they might tell you, 'Well you never do this or that'... and you might then say, 'Tell me more about 'never.' Or they might say, 'You always do this or that... and you might say, 'Tell me more about 'always.' After this, they may point their finger at you. Let them express all of that frustration," Goulston advises.

"Next, shift from 'reacting'--which you'll probably feel like doing--and become tender instead. You might say, 'Hey, what's really going on?' Their hands will go palms up, and they'll say, 'I don't know what to do' or 'I'm scared at how angry I get.'

"Next, use feeling words: You paraphrase them by using 'feeling' words. You might say, '...and because of that you're frustrated, hurt, angry, or what, exactly?' You summarize how they feel. By the way, when you get someone to attach the correct word to an emotion it lowers the emotional reactivity in the brain. You might ask them, 'Is it anger that you're feeling?' or, 'Are you ticked off?' They will further calm down and be more receptive to a connection with you," Goulston explained. "To drain all the pus out of this angry wound," he added, "You might then ask, 'How (angry) are you, and how bad does it get when it's really bad?'

"And then, they need to cross over from venting to exhaling: Think of a movie where a husband and wife are talking, and they're angry, and then there's a breakthrough moment where you see one or the other exhale and they make up," he said. "What your children want and need is to just be listened to, and to be able to go from venting to exhaling."

To fortify the parent-child relationship before there are problems, says Goulston, just don't give advice--ask questions instead. "Take advantage of an activity together, such as when you're driving somewhere together and you're both looking at the horizon and not directly at each other. Don't tell your kids what to do; instead, nurture judgment in them--how to make decisions when you're not around. The more you have confidence in their decision making and judgment, the less controlling you will be as a parent."

A regular contributor to Children's Voice, Patrick Mitchell publishes a monthly newsletter, The Down to Earth Dad, and facilitates the National Dads Matter!(TM) Project for child- and family-serving organizations. He provides keynote addresses and trainings, and conducts Family Storytelling Night(TM) events for programs and schools. To reserve Patrick Mitchell for speaking engagements, or to implement the National Dads Matter!(TM) Project for your families and community partners, call him toll-free at 877-282-DADS, or e-mail him at Website:

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